Digital Decision-Making: Blog 2

Despite the distinction between our lives and digital lives all but disappearing (we’re onlife), we often characterise ethics and civil engagement in online spaces as being categorically compromised.

In a show on ABC Radio National, commentator Waleed Aly explains how he believes the inherent structure of the medium of social media as a broadcast platform compromises our ability to have constructive dialogue, and to connect meaningfully with each other:

“Arguments and ideas that are tossed around are never really tossed around because all of those ideas are turned from engagement to performance. Every aspect of our lives, suddenly, whether it be argument over a political issue, a social issue, pop culture, or whether it is the endless tweeting of meals you’re eating—the thing that unites all of that is that it is an experience of performance.” – Waleed Aly

This reading of connection and civil engagement in digital spaces conflicts with a more utopian one. For example, sociologist Keith Hampton acknowledges the common assumption that social media makes us less connected and politically engaged, believing that, conversely, “people who use sites like Facebook actually have more close relationships and are more likely to be involved in civic and political activities.”

In his book Digital Media Ethics (2013), Charles Ess reasons that whilst many of the challenges we face online are similarly found in non-digital spaces, there are indeed ethical conundrums that are unique to online spaces, as well as the those that are familiar to a pre-digital world, but with new “wrinkles” (Ess, 2013) that have been inserted through our use of digital technologies.

Perhaps it’s not that digital platforms categorically repel or create ethical behaviour, but that we’re just navigating these “wrinkles” and need some time to help us insert our own value framework into unfamiliar territory. In my research, I want to explore some of the core ethical decision-making challenges that we face that are at least partially unique to digital spaces, and try to unpack some of these ethical complexities that are presented in a helpful way.

Updates and changes:

In my last blog, I introduced my area of research and attempted to document some of the reasoning that led me to define the direction and parameters of my project.

As I continue to research into the area, I’m realising just how complex and interwoven these discussions are – and how reducing all of this information into bite-sized how-to videos (such as I had planned) may risk over-simplification. I also began questioning the value of informing an audience in a very explicit way of a singular ‘correct’ approach to a given situation. I realised that, of course, it would be hugely naïve (and perhaps damaging) of me to suggest that there aren’t multiple truths and multiple correct solutions to ethical challenges. The relationship between disadvantage and access to the internet, also known as the digital divide, is just one example of how it is difficult to resolutely prescribe a singular ‘ethical’ path for our digital behaviour.

So, I’ve opted to shift the structure of the presentation of my research into a slightly more discursive format, to enable more complex analysis. To allow for this, I’ve changed the medium of my Digital Artefact from short videos to podcasts, which I feel are better suited to a conversational format. As I present each topic, I’ll be aiming to be explore issues using research and case studies, and asking constructive and generative questions, rather than simply informing. This is more in line with a value pluralist approach to ethics – which I think I like best.

I’ve also slightly altered my topic from the ones in my last blog. My new topics that I’ll be discussing (one per podcast episode) are:

  1. My Digital Self: Is my online identity harmful?
  2. Downloaded: Should I be consuming content for free?
  3. Big Brother: How much privacy should I relinquish?
  4. E-citizenship: Is my online behaviour strengthening democracy?

For each topic, I’ll be including academic research, and I’ll discuss a relevant case study. Whilst, I don’t want to be prescriptive, I do want the listener to gain something tangible from the episodes. So at the end of each podcast, I’ll leave the listener with ‘5  take-aways’ to help them feel empowered to navigate their digital lives more ethically.

Keep an eye on my blog for podcast one, coming soon!

MEDA301: Critical Analysis of Aki Inomata’s ‘Why not hand over a “shelter” to hermit crabs? – White Chapel’ (2014-2015)

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Central to Aki Inomata’s ‘Why not hand over a “shelter” to hermit crabs? – White Chapel’ (2014-2015) are three tiny, delicate sculptures which are based on, and are to-scale to, hermit crab shells. Potently, Inomata’s shells are embellished with designs of Western-style wedding chapels – an intriguing architectural phenomenon in Japan. Critical to the work are the innovative processes involved in its creation, namely 3D modelling and printing. These technologies have not only have assigned Inomata the tools to effectively realise her ideas, but have acted to reconfigure the meaning of the work through its materiality.

This analysis will initially describe the physical aspects of Inomata’s work, followed by an investigation into the technologies and materials used. Next, this analysis will explore Inomata’s process – both in her practice as a whole, and her intentions, investigations and experimentations in this work. This will be contextualized by a brief examination into the use of 3D printing and digital modelling in Art. Lastly, this analysis will identify and critique ideas and questions brought forth by the work. These include ideas around identity, migration and residence, our understanding of and relationship with non-human living things, and the notion of process as a fundamental component of the final work.

Physical aspects/description:

‘Why not hand over a “shelter” to hermit crabs? – White Chapel’ comprises of three sculptures on plinths in the centre-front of the work, a video projection on the wall behind, and two photos (printed on circular glass boards) either side.

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Central to the experience of the work are Inomata’s sculptures – the three hermit crab shells. The shells sit atop medium-height plinths, illuminated by a glowing base, and encased in perspex. On close inspection (and you’re invited to get close), the shells are strikingly intricate, detailed and exact for such a small-scale. The intimacy demanded of the work dictates that a viewer pays attention to finer elements: the natural grooves and lumps, weathered patches, and barnacles of the shell, and the towers, arches, spires and other iconic architectural elements of the Gothic-style chapel. The transparency of the structures is significant, as we’re able to see through to multiple layers of fine detail, adding even more pattern and complexity. Furthermore, the light from glowing base of the plinth gives the work a visual clarity, as each detail is illuminated.

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A minute long video is projected on to a wall behind the three plinths, and is of a hermit crab walking (?) in and out of shallow rock pools near a beach. The video is silent and minimal with no cuts, effects or text. The scale and location of the projection ensures we can’t miss the key element here: the intriguing, lovable, slightly absurd idea that instead of a normal shell, the crab is housed in a tiny, 3D printed model of a shell with an elaborate chapel atop. On either side of the video projection hangs photographs of hermit crabs wearing Inomata’s shells, in a similar beach location. The photos sit behind a glass sheet and are cropped in the shape of circles. Both the video and photos serve to document the sculptures in action, and to draw out the peculiar arrangement just long enough to invite a deeper questioning beyond the aesthetic. Without which the work, it could be argued, is in danger of becoming kitsch.

Materials/technologies used:

Inomata’s work is enabled by the use of new materials and technologies. Using CT scans, Inomata was able to study the shapes of real hermit shells, create 3DCG data, and design models. Designs of the western-style Japanese wedding chapels were then added to the shell models, and the final design 3D printed using a transparent plastic.

The materiality of the work as a 3D printed artefact, alongside its subject matter, inserts potent meaning into it. In recent years, innovations in accessibility to 3D printing has ensured it’s heralded as an innovation that’s poised to have significant cultural, economic and social implications[1] (if it isn’t doing so already.) The very idea of this possibility, as we find ourselves amidst rapid change and disruption brought about by digital technologies and connectedness, ensures that the use of 3D printing in is inherently loaded. It’s easy to see how its use could be unsettling – even confronting – as a viewer becomes acutely aware of the proficiency of 3D printing. This is only heightened by coupling technological innovations with the beach and animals, motifs of the natural world. As we observe an exact, even enhanced, replication of a natural phenomenon, deep fears are brought to the fore. As humans, we’re challenged to question: If complex, ancient, and somewhat mystical processes such as the forming of shells can be replicated, what is sacred? What is our birth-right and innate privilege as living beings, if the work of nature can be replicated?

Inomata’s process and practice: How did Inomata experiment, investigate and iterate to create this work?  

Inomata’s practice is characterized by an exploration of human concerns such as identity and culture, through use of non-human living things. In her words, Inamata “collaborates” with living creatures [2] By doing this, Inomata has been able to bring an awareness to humankind, and processes occurring in our societies. For example, in a previous work, French Lessons with a Parakeet (2010), Inomata documents herself doing, quite literally, what the title states. In another, she makes a coat for her dog out of her own hair, and a coat for herself out of her dog’s hair. [3] By relocating language and clothes, characteristically human concepts, onto non-human living thing, Inomata prompts us to view these ideas, and our human-ness, from a new standpoint. We’re enabled to view our own rituals and traditions with the objectivity of an outsider – and thus faced, perhaps, with the quirkiness and frivolity of them.

In ‘Why not hand over a “shelter” to hermit crabs? – White Chapel’, Inomata continues her investigation of human beings through a collaboration with non-human creatures, whilst also deepening and expanding her project through use of 3D modelling and printing technologies.

Inomata’s process for ‘Why not hand over a “shelter” to hermit crabs?’ began by visiting an exhibition titled “No man’s land” (2009), which explored the history of the French Embassy in Japan. Interestingly, the embassy belonged to France until 2009, then become Japanese, and after 50 years, will be handed back to France. This peaceful transition of national ownership intrigued Inomata, who “was surprised to hear this story…while it is the same piece of land, our definition of it changes.” She likened this process to a hermit crab changing it’s shell (hermit crabs routinely choose or are forced to change shells). This initial investigation into the story of the French embassy in Japan and into the characteristics of hermit crabs evolved into a multi-year project exploring the transience of our identities, the role of residence and national identity.

It’s clear that like many artists, Inomata has enabled this project to evolve through material and conceptual investigations over several years. Inomata explains that CT scans weren’t originally planned to play a role in her process. In her first iteration of the work, she used “spherical shapes” for the shells, rather than a model informed by 3DCG data. But when tested with hermit crabs, they ignored these shelters – so Inomata modified her approach. This iteration not only exemplifies an exploratory approach to art-making, but reveals a signature part of Inomata’s process: collaboration with living creatures. The development proved to be pivotal, as Inomata’s work was then not only physically altered, but injected with the cultural potency of using new technologies.

Inomata’s work has also developed conceptually as her creative research progressed. ‘White Chapel’ is the second series in ‘Why not hand over a “shelter” to hermit crabs?’. In the first, Inomata embedded cities from around the world onto the shells. In White Chapel, Inomata instead focuses on one architectural phenomenon: the proliferation of Western and Christian-style chapels, purpose built for weddings, in Japan – a country with whose Christian population comprises of only 1%. For me, this iteration enhances the work significantly by injecting a cultural dimension, which steers it toward a more complex and truthful discussion of ideas around migration, transience and identity.

Analysis of central ideas: 

Inomata’s states that her work intends to forefront ideas of migration and identity – the notion that we’re able to seamlessly reshape ourselves as we cross national borders. [4] After consideration, I believe the work achieves this goal, but perhaps in the way it intended to.  As a viewer encounters the work, it’s difficult to not be struck with the lovable absurdity and novelty of the situation. I certainly smiled and giggled to myself as I saw a hermit crab unknowingly carrying a magnificent church on its shell. But, rather than detracting from the work, I think this quirkiness is well placed. By witnessing the elaborate displays of human tradition – such as represented by gothic church architecture – on the back of a non-human creature, we’re suddenly self-aware of the non-seriousness of such a declaration of identity. Are we not all hermit crabs, bearing the weight of our elaborate “shells”, our public identities, on our backs in name of cultural conformity? That’s not to say culture isn’t an authentic and crucial part of who we are – but rather – that some of our quirks as humans are actually quite frivolous, when stripped of their historic and cultural weight.

For the migrant, who is expected to conform to these quirky cultural norms in a new country, despite perhaps having not willingly internalized them, the constructed-ness of this process is particularly pronounced. Similarly, in movements involving a level of cultural co-opting – such as is in the wedding industry in Japan as referenced by Inomata, and in Western countries in numerous ways – culture is fetishised for commercial interest, heightening our awareness of the absurdity of aspects of tradition and ritual. The humble hermit crab with its 3D printed, beautifully elaborate and culturally loaded shell, is a mirror to our own human behavior – it’s revealed in all of it’s absurd, kind of adorable, glory. We can seamlessly reshape our identities as we move across countries because much of our identities are just ‘shelters’ formed out of our need to belong to a place – not inherent and immovable parts of us. We buy into the historic importance, the pomp and tradition (literally) but really, we have a fluidity and transience, just Inomata’s hermit crabs.

In her work, ‘Why not hand over a “shelter” to hermit crabs? – White Chapel’, Inomata explores mimicry, culture, identity and the human condition. Through use of new technologies such as 3D modelling and printing, Inomata challenges us by perfectly mimicking a characteristically natural, mystical, time-old phenomena – the sea shell –thus prompting us to question our own privilege and relevance as humans. Whether intentionally or not, by dislocating artefacts of cultural tradition such as architecture, clothes and language from humans onto non-human creatures, Inomata unveils our humanness, and our tendency to seek belonging through identity. The adorable absurdity and frivolity of the work, which I find difficult to avoid, serves to bring potency to the work, rather than detract from it. It’s clear that Inomata has been able to create a rich and complex work through years of focused investigation and exploration, and multiple iterations where she was able to meaningfully incorporation both existing and emerging technologies.

[1] K. Turner, 2010. “Missing the point: Handmade vs. digitally fabricated” (16 August), Ponoko, at http://blog.ponoko.com/2010/08/15/missing-the-point-handmade-vs-digitally-fabricated/, accessed 22 May 2017.

[2] http://www.aki-inomata.com/profile/

[3] http://www.aki-inomata.com/statement/

[4] http://www.aki-inomata.com/works/hermit_WhiteChapel/

We are all e-citizens: A practical guide to being ethical in digital spaces (research blog 1)

“A person is her or his information. “My” in “my information” is not the same as “my” in “my car” but rather the same as “my” as in “my body” or “my feelings”; it expresses a sense of constitutive belonging, not of external ownership, a sense in which my body, my feelings, and my information are part of me but are not my (legal) belongings.” – Luciano Floridi

For my cyberculture research this semester, I’ve (somewhat naively) chosen to delve into the deeply bewildering but nonetheless fascinating world of ethics in the age of information.

Far, far from being the simple and defined area I thought it to be, my research thus far has uncovered a complex web (read: absolute cluster-f**k) of academic and popular discourse encompassing numerous overlapping vortices of knowledge in the area.

To give you an idea, in my research, I came across the following terms/topic areas: e-democracy, cyber-democracy, cyber-ethics, digital rights, e-citizenship, intercultural computing ethics (ICE), digital media ethics, the ethics of information, consequentialist ethics and utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, feminist ethics… (I could go on.)

In the video below, Damon Horowitz discusses data and ethics to an audience in Silicon Valley: “What’s the formula that we can use in any situation to determine what we should do, whether we should use that guy’s data or not? What’s the formula? There’s not a formula. There’s not a simple answer.

After much confusion and deliberation, however, I did manage to make some kind of sense of it all (well, kind of!). Below are some distinctions/definitions/reasoning which I feel need to preface a discussion and summary of my research:

  1. If there is no distinction between our offline reality and online reality (Aren’t we all ‘onlife’?), why is a discussion of ethics in digital spaces/digital media relevant? This was the first and most obvious tension I came across in my research. Yes – the lines between our digital lives and non-digital lives are blurred if not indistinguishable. This means that the moral codes and ethics we practice offline also apply online. But digital spaces have presented us with some entirely new ethical challenges, too. In Digital Media EthicsCharles (2013) acknowledges three ethical challenges: 1.) The sorts of ethical conundrums already familiar to us, that are similarly found in traditional media. E.g, ‘Can we illegally copy a song for our own use?’ 2.) These familiar difficulties with new ‘wrinkles.’ E.g, the fact that new media has enabled an easy, cheap and accessible way of making perfect copies of someone’s song, and 3.) Challenges that are entirely unique to digital media. E.g, in the quote by Floridi at the beginning of this blog, it is pointed out that there is a discrepancy between ownership, privacy and legal rights in digital and non-digital spaces. The ethical challenge presented depends on whether these notions are situated online or offline.
  2.  Rest assured, this is not a discussion informed by moral panics. Predictably, I came across multiple articles and reports forewarning young people and adults of the dangers and risks involved in ‘being online’, and much advice on what’s acceptable and not acceptable. Some of these kinds of articles were not only outdated but steeped in moral panic, or as Charles (2013) tells, “technology good” and “technology bad.” These kinds of dichotomous analyses are something that I want to avoid.
  3. How will I define what’s ‘ethical’? I know just enough about philosophy to know just how incredibly vast and complex the discipline is, and just how much I really don’t know. So I’ll be upfront about this: whilst I’ll endeavour to be as informed as possible, my discussion of ethics will be situated within my own, basic, subjective understanding of it. Maybe this is best. To get a little meta, I don’t know how I feel about even trying to argue for the correctness of a singular theory of ethics (Wikipedia tells me this is actually a metaethics theory called ‘ethical pluralism’).

In light of all of this, the scope of my research will be to unpack some of the ethical challenges that we, as everyday people who use the internet, knowingly or unknowingly tangle with. I will focus primarily on the challenges which are familiar to analogue, but with new ‘wrinkles’, and those that are particular to digital spaces (as mentioned above.) The judgement of the ethical correctness of an action will be a thoughtful one, but one that is highly subjective and one that may not necessarily belong within the canon of philosophical understanding.

The eventual product and format of my research will be a series of short videos imparting practical information and advice for everyday people navigating this area. I just know it’s going to be difficult to reduce some of these issues into a bite-sized form with tangible takeaways (rather than just meandering commentary, like this blog), so I’ll try to include many links in YouTube descriptions for further research.

Topic areas I’ve whittled my research down to are the following:

  1. Navigating a new privacy: Ownership, data and surveillance
  2. The ethics of free stuff: Intellectual property
  3. Minimise harm: Gender, sexuality and porn
  4. E-citizenship: Sillos, algorithms and democracy

In my next blog, I’ll be summarising my research in these areas, and detailing more on my digital artefact. Stay tuned!

Practice Development Project: Week 6

Project Pitch:

In my project, I want to explore the sensory perception and consciousness, the ‘old brain’, and our human experience of both (how they relate/conflict).

My research into the Light and Space movement has steered me toward looking at sensory perception and light. Artists like James Turrell and Robert Irwin sought to subvert our experience of light in order to bring an awareness to our own sensory perception – and the physiology of this. This forefronts consciousness, i.e, to see ourselves see.

In my research, I also came across an artist called Anne Lindberg. In her bio on her website, she talked about wanting her works to appeal to the ‘Old Brain’ –  to activate primal understandings (security, fear, hunger, gravity, sexuality, anxiety, self-protection.)

In my project, I want to try to tangle with both concepts mentioned above, as I think their relationship is interesting. I want to activate the new brain understandings through fore fronting consciousness, as well as the Old Brain through texture, form, rhythm and sound, and highlight the dialogue between both for the viewer.

The idea for my project is an installation work featuring a number of spherical frosted glass objects (similar to what I used in my material experimentation) hanging from the ceiling at varying heights. Inside the spheres are battery operated lights. I want the spheres to have a very soft glow and organic textures (I will explore using material covers to achieve this.)

To activate primal understandings, I want to use primarily sound and rhythm. I’m thinking sounds like the sound of breathing, crying, eating, screaming – sounds related to the Old Brain. I came across interesting information about the old brain/new brain which will inform how I use rhythm:

 

  • Conscious sensation and reaction – by the cerebrum or new brain – can take about 2 seconds.
  • Unconscious sensation and reaction – by the cerebellum or old brain – is around 10 times faster.

I’m figuring out how exactly I can use sound and rhythm in my work. This will need further thought and iteration.

Inspired by our class discussion in week 6, below is a diagram of how the conceptual, aesthetic and functional aspects of my work work separately and together for my project:

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I also am taking into account some of the feedback/ideas from my classmates, although I think they may be overestimating my technical abilities (I’m unfortunately unable make mini tsunamis caused by voice).

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Practice Development Project: Week 5

Research Your Project

Although the progression of my Research Development Project hasn’t exactly been lineal (one minute I’m talking about non-profit marketing, the next, light/space in art) – I have been learning and progressing nonetheless. Through my contextual research into the Light and Space movement, I’ve been introduced to a whole new way of understanding light, how it can relate to consciousness/awareness, and it’s relationship with space and colour. Though my material experimentation, I learned about the relationships between various textures, materials and light, and played around with transforming light into a physical object.

From all of this, I’ve been inspired to ask questions and explore new areas. Obviously I’m in the very initial stages of project formation, without knowing who my group will be and what we’ll be working on. Here’s a little ideas brain dump of what I’m interested in developing thus far:

Ideas to explore:

  • Temporality/the ephemeral
  • Sensory perception
  • ‘Old Brain’ and texture, colour, light, shape
  • Consciousness
  • Ubiquity/salience
  • Physiological/visceral experience
  • Physicality/abstract

Materials:

  • Soft fabrics and plastics: chiffon, coloured plastic bags, plastic wrap
  • Frosted glass (may be difficult to obtain)
  • Skylights/Windows
  • Soft, flowing textures
  • Hard, structural textures
  • Paper (tracing, tissue)
  • Artificial and natural lights

Media technologies:

  • Video
  • Film
  • Projection
  • Photography
  • Sound

What historical development informed this field?

Impressionism: placed an emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its temporal nature, and the inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience. This focus on light and sensory perception broke new ground and paved the way for following movements.

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Colour field: is characterized primarily by large fields of flat, solid colour spread across or stained into the canvas creating areas of unbroken surface and a flat picture plane. In color field painting “color is freed from objective context and becomes the subject in itself.” Whilst not working directly with light, the movement explored visceral experience for the viewer (rather than art as a signifier). This is later pushed further by the Light and Space movement.

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Light and Space Movement: was concerned with “making the spectator’s experience of light and other sensory phenomena under specific conditions the focus of their work.” They emphasised sensory perception by subverting our ordinary experience of light.

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What is happening right now that is interesting?

James Turrell is still creating works that explore light and space. He has created many Skyspaces that are still being commissioned today, such as the one below, which was created in 2013.

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Turrell is also exploring sensory deprivation through his works. This can be seen in the exhibition ‘Ganzfeld.’ Ganzfeld is a German word to describe the phenomenon of the total loss of depth perception as in the experience of a white-out.

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I’m interested in the various ways we can forefront sensory perception for viewers as a I believe this is potent. I’d love to perhaps incorporate video and projection into this. I’m also really intrigued by how, as artists, we can speak to our ‘old brain.’ I find this intersection between art and psychology meaningful, and would love to push it further.

Practice Development Project: Week 4

Finding Opportunity

Luckily, and unluckily, i’m someone who’s constantly future tripping. Which means I’ve given some pretty significant thought on the steps i’ll need to take to build my desired career (via sleepless nights and unnecessary fretting.) I worked out early on that in comms/marketing, a degree isn’t a direct pathway to a job, so I’ve interned/volunteered/worked in my study field throughout most of my degree to gain some experience. Through these opportunities, I’ve gained some skills, but also invaluable insight into career paths in the non-profit marketing space. I’ve also learnt about myself – what I’m good at and what needs work. I know I’ve still got so much to learn, but at the moment, I’m trying to focus on being patient, present, trust that I’ve done the work, and lean into the (kind of) unknown.

I’ve also given up on the idea of finding the ideal role that I will aim for, achieve, and then proceed to love for the rest of my life. That isn’t me. I know where I’m heading after I graduate (non-profit marketing), but I also know that I’ll move on from this!

Do some research regarding your field. Be bold and realistic about where you want to end up (what is your desired position) and where you are now. What are the steps required to make your goals a reality. What are the realistic time frames involved in reaching you goal?

Desired position: Head of Digital/Creative Director (Non-Profit Marketing)

You may begin with a simple diagram of how your field/ industry works. What are the positions? How are they related.

Path to a Director/Manager in Marketing:

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Identify three potential mentors – work out who they are, how they got where they are, and how you can contact them. Superstars are hard to contact and London is hard to get to- so be practical in your choices. You want someone with local contacts, knowledge and experience who will have the time and generosity to offer.

  1. Alina Azaar – Former Marketing Manager/Director (I think) at IMB/SCARF Board Member (Marketing and PR Advisor)
  2. Ashleigh Dewar – Marketing Coordinator (Engineering Faculty at UOW)/SCARF volunteer
  3. Bronte Hogarth – Former Head of Digital at 1 Million Women

Being prepared:

I recognise that there are some skill sets that ideally I’d build/strengthen in order to give me the best chance at gaining a full-time paid position in non-profit marketing. I created a little map of the skills I need, and how whether they need building or strengthening.

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Practice Development Project: Week 3

Researching ‘My Hero’

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To be honest, I deliberated quiet a bit about who to choose as ‘my hero’ on my Media Arts blog. I’ve gravitated away from idolising ‘successful people’, and gravitated toward admiring people who, like all of us, are deeply flawed, but live a life of integrity, have the courage to be vulnerable, give a shit, seek truth…(it’s not a definitive list.)

Whilst a career Artist could absolutely be this person, it just so happened that none came to mind. Instead, the author Elizabeth Gilbert did. Actually – Elizabeth Gilbert may actually be an Artist. Anyway.

Gilbert wrote a book, ‘Big Magic’, which has influenced my practice as an Artist and my view on creativity/creating. It probably wouldn’t make it on to the required reading at University, as there’s a definite spiritual/self-growth feel to it. ‘Art’ as an institution isn’t taken too seriously, but creating, exploration and playfulness are.

As someone who’d never cut it as career artist, this resonates with where I’d like to head: toward creating as a source of enjoyment, truth seeking, inquiry, connectedness and self-care.

“Creativity is sacred and not sacred. What we create matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.”

Elizabeth Gilbert’s practice:

Elizabeth Gilbert is an American author, essayist, short story writer, biographer, novelist, and memoirist. She’s best known for Eat Pray Love, an extraordinarily successful novel (which later became a feature film).

What I personally admire Gilbert is not necessarily for Eat Pray Love, but for her book ‘Big Magic’, where she explores creativity, the creative process, and creative living beyond fear. She’s also produced podcasts and blogs around this topic which I have read and loved.

Gilbert’s practice (in Big Magic, at least) has become a meta-practice, where she reflects on her own practice as a writer, and shares what she’s learnt. Gilbert’s philosophy around ‘creating’ (which I think can be translated to her philosophy on practice) is ultimately to create without fear. This idea can be teased out to encompass the following ideas, from what I can remember:

  • Creative living should be driven by curiosity, not fear. This does not mean fear isn’t there – just don’t let it in the driver’s seat.
  • Create ego-less work. You are not what you create.
  • Push it forward. Put it out there (challenge perfectionism).
  • Be disciplined. Show-up everyday and do the work. “It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.”
  • Don’t be a martyr. Suffering isn’t part and parcel of being creative. “Far too many creative people have been taught to distrust pleasure and put their faith in struggle alone”
  • Give it you’re all, then let go of the outcome. “You do what you can do, as competently as possible within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go.” 
  • Your creativity doesn’t have to be important, take the pressure off yourself. “You’re not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words, it also doesn’t have to be important.” 

Describe how his/ her practice is situated in a larger field. For example, are they pioneers in what they do? Or perhaps their works challenge the conventional ways of thinking or working? Or they are recognised as being excellent in their fields?

I think Gilbert’s work kind of straddles two larger fields. One being writing/journalism, and the other being the self-development/wellness sphere.

I won’t pretend I know enough about literature to guess at who broke the ground for the work of Gilbert, but I know that her writing is influenced by Marcus Aerulius, Charles Dickens and Jack Gilbert (not a relation).

Find out more about them: What are his/ her skills started with? What may be some of their failures? What are some of the hurdles they overcame (or not)?

Gilbert has a degree in Arts (Political Science) from NYU. She the worked in various jobs (cook, a bartender, a waitress, and a magazine employee) while writing in her free time. Eventually, she ended up as a highly successful journalist and freelance writer. Following this, she published a number of books including the memoir, Eat Pray Love, which catapulted her to fame. Now a public figure, Gilbert writes books as well as produces podcasts and guest lectures/speeches.

In Big Magic, Gilbert details the numerous times she’s ‘failed.’ She spent years and years writing before she could rely on it as a source of income. Her work was rejected by publications numerous times. She published a book about marriage and then got divorced. She frames these failures as formational events, rather than being something to be ashamed of/regretful about. In the talk below, she gives insight into her ‘failures’:

What is the most important thing for them that they ‘hold dear’? What is their core value that they never deviate from?

I think for Gilbert, and for many people, she’d probably say that she holds love, courage or vulnerability dear.

How do you relate to this core value?

I think these kind of life values translate to our practice as artists. If you have the courage to create honestly, to take emotional risks and be vulnerable, your work has the ability to profoundly connect with people. If we create with love (as cheesy as it sounds) rather than fear, we’re in a mind-frame where we can be curious, exploratory and productive.

Practice Development Project: Week 2 (6/6)

Material Research: Light + Plastic/Fabric/Paper/Glass

Inspired by James Turrell and Robert Irwin, I wanted to experiment with bringing an awareness to ‘seeing’ as a physiological process (‘seeing oneself see’). By doing this, one becomes abruptly aware of the illusory nature of our reality – it is merely sensory input. Through my contextual research, i’ve learned that this can be explored by subverting the way we experience light.

I wanted to transform light from being a ubiquitous and unnoticed presence to a physical tangible object in the foreground. I wanted to also experiment with materials/texture/colour/form to see how this changes meaning. Lastly, I also wanted to gain some knowledge around the technicalities of working with light and different materials.

I conducted these experiments in my garage, as it is the darkest room available to me. I used an iPhone for a light source and an obliging sister as a helper. I also used a large piece of thick cardboard with a cut-out in the middle, to provide a dark frame around a window of light.

Material 1: Tracing Paper

In the right iteration, I really like how the tracing paper is translucent enough to allow light to illuminate it, but thick enough to be quite structural and create hard edges. The glowing square really stands out. I like how minimal it is and how it looks like it’s floating. Tracing paper seems to disperse light evenly.

Material 2: soft plastic (green plastic bag + plastic wrapping) and frosted glass

The images in the centre and left are actually of the same materials (green plastic bag + frosted glass). It was interesting to find out that the closer the coloured material is to the light source, the more saturated the colour. The frosted glass seems to give the light a soft, ethereal glow, whereas the soft plastics create a highly textured/detailed effect.

Material 3: Fabric (cotton and sheer fabric)

The material on the left is a sheer fabric (not sure of the type.) On the right is cotton draped over the glass sphere. Fabric illuminated by light seems to give off a soft, muted glow. I think this is kind of effective as it is illuminated but also looks removed from an artificial light source.  You can’t really tell there’s an iPhone light behind these. It seems that the thicker the material over the light is, the more evenly the light is dispersed. I think the iteration on the right could be improved by somehow removing the folds in the fabric.

 

Material 5: Cardboard Cut-Out + Sky

This iteration wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped. It’s hard to completely block out light unless you’re in a dark room with a window. Thus, the colours around the cut-out aren’t uniform. I do like the idea of framing everyday scenery like this. I think it works toward bringing an awareness to seeing, as discussed above.

Practice Development Project: Week 2 (4/6)

Given the results of the exercises above propose three experiments or explorations that you will enact as a program of creative material research over the next week.

  1. Explore light (artificial) and different fabrics (such as scrim) with various levels of transparency. Artist reference: Robert Irwin
  2. Explore using ‘windows’ of natural light to bring a conscious awareness to an ordinary, natural phenomena (seeing yourself see). Artist reference: James Turrell
  3. Explore how we can use sensory phenomena (colour and light) to alter visceral experience for viewer. Appeal to the ‘old brain.’ Artist reference: Anne Lindberg

Ground your proposals in the research you’ve done. This might mean – exploring one of the (historical) qualities that you identified in your media archeology, or emulating a technique used by one of your contemporaries, or to test, explore or experiment with the ideas, concepts or questions posed in the academic research.Its important that this creative research be grounded in a particular field of inquiry that is well contextualised in terms of contemporary practice and historical development.

  1. Irwin used scrim fabric to almost ‘objectify’ light in a very literal sense. This brings an awareness to light as a physical phenomena rather than an ubiquitous, invisible presence. Experimenting with different fabrics with varying qualities could raise interesting questions about how we experience light.
  2. Turrell created sculptural works with atriums revealing the sky. This kind of framing of natural light/sky invites us to be conscious of ourselves seeing. It also draws attention to the ephemeral/temporal as the sky is always changing. There are many variables I could experiment with here to see how this changes meaning.
  3. In a statement on her website Lindberg explained that her practice aims to appeal to the ‘old brain’ wear we experience fear, protection, anxiety, pleasure etc. I’d like to play around with different colours/lights/spaces to see how we experience them viscerally and psychologically.