Type of project: seminar
Blekinge Institute of Technology, Campus Karlshamn, Karlskrona, Sweden
When: 13 October 2011
Jay David Bolter, Professor, Digital Media, Georgia Tech (USA)
Annelie Ekelin, Senior Lecturer, ICT, BTH (SE)
Pirjo Elovaara, Senior Lecturer, Feminist Technoscience, BTH (SE)
Oscar Guermouche, Independent Artist (SE)
Lissa Holloway-Attaway, Senior Lecturer, Digital Culture, BTH (SE/CAN)
Malin Jogmark, Lecturer, Digital Culture, BTH (SE)
Talan Memmott, Lecturer, Digital Culture, BTH (SE/USA)
Dmitry Bulatov, Artist Curator, National Center for Contemporary Art (RUS)
Mateusz Herczka, Independent Artist (SE)
Performing Pictures, represented by Geska Helena Brečević, Artist Group (SE)
David Prater, Postdoctoral Researcher in Electronic Literature, BTH (SE/AUS)
Organizers: Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden

Developing a sustainable platform for digital knowledge exchange: artistic practice and creative research

by Lissa Holloway-Attaway

What do a robot, whale, interactive under-sea installation and Facebook have in common? They all engage the many themes and concepts brought together in the seminars and exhibitions designed and organized by Art Line’s partners from Blekinge Tekniska Högskola (BTH) as part of the Digital Art Platform research initiative. This initiative, which overtly supported the development a “digital platform for exchange” to explore art in its various mediated functions, was much more than the creation of a technical apparatus or a multi-function web forum, as represented by the current Art Line website. This website, which shares, documents, solicits, and exhibits media artworks, fulfills in part Art Line’s commitment to explore virtual, physical, and public spaces and bring the processes behind such creative work to the public. But the technical role is only one of the components required in effective platform- and network-building. To support a creative foundation for today’s complex digital culture, the “human factor” cannot be overlooked or underestimated as a central element. Within the desired network, those who produce, consume, research and engage with art and art-practices must be as flexible and robust as the technical components of the platform. In order to transfer knowledge across many disciplines and enable core issues to come into focus when viewed through multiple lenses, we must involve people on many levels. We must commit to sustainable exchange and, thus, technical infrastructures can be seen as only part of the equation. The remainder is comprised of more organic means and matters in the circuitry, that is, to the dynamic and vibrant human connections that arise when diverse groups of people come together to share the ideals and values that are inherent in their practices. This human network must work together with the technical infrastructures that deliver information, as they are in essence the true content of any digital platform.

Within the academic subject of digital culture, the discipline from which the primary research was based within the organizing partners from BTH, the hybrid digital/ human, is always at the forefront of our studies. In our research, we work to build and integrate knowledge networks and examine tools and emerging media that support new creative expressions and practices. We focus on both the cultural and aesthetic aspects of digital media, and this means studying the impact of media in social (human) contexts, as well as the design of technical apparatuses. To this end, we recognize that a thorough analysis of media innovations, such as those engaged by Art Line, includes the study of creative expression in traditional media (print literature, visual art, TV, and film) as well as in new forms, such as video games, social networking sites, blogs, image and video sharing sites, and mixed and augmented reality. We work to develop theoretical and critical methods for examining practices within our contemporary media culture, and this means the perspective from which we study “art” must come from a variety of fields and disciplines. Therefore, research from a digital culture perspective necessarily draws from a wide range of humanities-based fields beyond art and design theory. For example, in our work at BTH, we work to integrate media studies, cultural studies, history, film studies, literary theory, performance and communication studies. Additionally, we are strongly influenced by information science, computer science, and the social sciences of psychology, anthropology, and sociology. At the risk of suggesting that everything must be a subject for our discipline, we maintain that such a wide field of interest has to be engaged if we are to fulfill our goal of researching a “digital art platform” and exploring what it means to design and implement one for our project. In our seminars, workshops, exhibitions, and performances, we worked to include both theoretical and practical explorations of our primary topics and to draw on the intradisciplinarity that is central to subjects like interaction and experience design, as well as to human-computer interaction.

As the primary coordinator and director for the events hosted by BTH, I recognized that there were a number of questions to address, and in some measure I, along with my colleagues and co-participants, worked to include them in the two primary seminars and the three day-festival that we created for Art Line. I have provided summaries and a list of participants for each event below. In retrospect, I believe it is evident from both the backgrounds of the participants and the themes for the events, that our subjects often overlapped and circled around many questions. I see this as a clear bonus, rather than a flaw, however. The recursive nature of our discussions, often returning to issues of communication across media, userexperiences, performing media, and interactive engagement, and creative expression, enabled valuable feedback loops. We circled through and around the topics, discussing, workshopping, demonstrating, and experiencing them in-situ as we exchanged our fields of knowledge and developed processes to support them. We also had a diverse list of invited guests and participants often returned to re-address topics in different contexts, or to display work or research at a further stage of development. Many of the topics focused on media innovation and practice across fields; we always worked to include artists and researchers from multiple disciplines to support the conversation and to maximize our network and platforms for exchange. We had a detailed and diverse range of questions to explore in our discussions and exhibitions: How can we understand and analyze contemporary and future communication models? How can we describe and create physical/virtual sites and interactions that are sustained by touch screens and mobile devices (ipads and smart phones, for example)? How do we tell stories through the media we create? How do we live as embodied entities in our current mixed media ecology? What novel experiences can be fashioned through the use of experimental media? How can artistic practices and academic research come into meaningful conversation, and how can we support such a convergent media practice? In each of the events we organized, these questions and more were addressed in some detail. The complete schedules and programs are available on the Art Line website, and should be referenced for specifics. But a snapshot of each event is included below to capture the essence of each and to share some voices, still circulating and resonating in our networks, from those who participated with us to build our Digital Art Platform, which is necessarily still under construction.

Media/Art/Culture/Innovation Seminar (Oct 11, 2011)
This seminar was the first in a series of research and artbased practices organized by the faculty of the Department of Culture and Communication and held at BTH, Karlshamn Campus. Faculty researchers in cooperation with international Art Line partners and invited guests explored the theme of “innovation” in art, digital media, and new cultural contexts, and demonstrated exhibition practices. Practices included artistic demonstrations of work, as well as in academic arenas. The goal was to establish a critical foundation for future workshops, seminars and exhibitions in 2012 and 2013 that would focus on performance, mixed reality, and art in digital, physical, and public contexts. To that end, we created a program that threaded the discussions in a number of entangled topics, subjects, and influences.

In essence, the seminar focused on the ways that mixed media spaces, exhibition contexts, narrative forms, and aesthetics influence and support emerging practices within digital media arts. In particular, the seminar highlighted the influence of social media production on traditional art practices, emerging technologies (augmented/ mixed reality), new aesthetics for digital storytelling, and for the construction of ”place”, as well as interdisciplinary creative practice (art/science/technology/performance). Artists and theorists presented their research, demonstrated their artwork, and participated in panel discussions. BTH students within the Digital Culture and Communication and Literature, Culture, and Digital Media programs also incorporated the seminar as part of their studies within digital culture.

Highlights from the seminar include a film screening by Dmitry Bulatov, a theorist, artist, and curator from the Kaliningrad Center for Contemporary Art. Bulatov shared film documentation of artworks that combine technological and living matter, works of bio-art, robotics, and artificial life. Beginning with central questions that would continue to thread through our work, he asked, through the artworks he screened, what does it mean to be human, to be alive in a post-biological age, where bodies of art, human bodies, and technology may converge to challenge both what is “authentic” and what is “artificial?” And how can artistic practices help us to imagine what this means? Artists like Geska Helena Brečević from the artist duo Performing Pictures, demonstrated works that include responsive and interactive image technologies (that is “pictures that perform”) to show how humans and media can begin to resemble each other. In her works “Men that Fall” and “Women that Turn”, for example, Brečević showed the power of silent responsiveness, as a media body encountered an organic body, triggering a dramatic response in both. Mateusz Herczka showed technology and nature coming together in works like “Puddle Drive-Through Simulation”, which focuses on the unique survival tactics of killifish, simulated through his video artworks and installations that reflect on the connections between art and science. Oscar Guermouche showed the ways that his own tattooed body can be used as an “exhibition space” and how his experiences in social media may be transferred to other materials, re-contextualized and reinscribed with new meanings through such displacement. In “Vad gör du just nu?”, for example, his Facebook statuses become the material for a print text. These artistic practices were combined with reflections by academic theorists from backgrounds in technoscience, ICT, digital culture and media (all included below) who explored the aesthetics of new methods for digital storytelling in emerging forms (via AR and social media, for example). A final moderated panel discussion brought everyone together for more reflection and cross-disciplinary exchange.

Lissa Holloway-Attaway, Ph. D., Senior Lecturer in Digital Culture, Blekinge Tekniska Högskola, Karlskrona Sweden

Lissa Holloway-Attaway

Seminar Summary

Annelie Ekelin - Digital Stories

Oscar Guermouche - (Face)books

Jay David Bolter - There, Not Here; about Augmented Reality

Dmitry Bulatov- Interdisciplinary Aestethics

Lissa Holloway-Attaway - Social Media

Geska Helena Brecevic - Digital Practice, Artist Demonstration

Mateusz Herczka - Digital Practice, Artist Demonstration

Talan Memmott - Interactive Poetics

Group discussion