The Madness of Methods: Emerging Arts Research Practices

Key areas to be discussed include: the tensions between empirical, interpretive and critical research techniques in the performance and production of art practice; the contribution of psychoanalysis and cognitive science to arts research; multimedia techniques for the creation of real-time knowledge production; making research visible to transdisciplinary (academic) audiences; and communicating arts practice research in dynamic vernaculars.
Tuesday, 20 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Anne Balsamo
Rosemary Comella
Jeanne Jo
Amanda Tasse
Gabriel Peters-Lazaro
Diego Costa
Joshua McVeigh-Schultz
Lauren Fenton’s installation interactive cinema with a squeezable interface
Josh McVeigh-Schultz interviewing subjects in his Vox Pop project.

Chair: Prof. Anne Balsamo

Common among the creative fields--the arts, science, technology and design--is a commitment to the production of new knowledge based on original research.  Research is the praxis of systematic critical reflection that focuses on compelling domain-defined questions.  The “question of method” is often used to distinguish art and design from science and technology: where the latter are defined by reified methodological paradigms, and the former by the repudiation of such paradigms.  In practice we know this to be a false opposition: artists and designers systematically engage the empirical in many ways in their creative work; scientists and technologists creatively improvise to form rational accounts of their technical projects. The participants on this panel are each engaged in developing innovative methods that demonstrates the notion of art practice as transformative research.  For some of them this takes the form of performance and real-time video mixing, for others it is the creation of locative media experiences that probe cultural dispositions and habits. Key areas to be discussed include:  the tensions between empirical, interpretive and critical research techniques in the performance and production of art practice; the contribution of psychoanalysis and cognitive science to arts research; multimedia techniques for the creation of real-time knowledge production; making research visible to transdisciplinary (academic) audiences; and communicating arts practice research in dynamic vernaculars. This panel will describe, explore, and demonstrate a range of new methods of emerging arts research.

Paper Abstracts

Indexical Immateriality: Photography and Cinema inside the Machine

by Rosemary Comella

Grounded in a longstanding interest in the photographic, my artistic research is partly based around the idea of the indexicality of the photographic document as a trace of the real and a record of the past. My work attempts to probe the question of whether photographic indexicality functions differently when experienced within a mutable digital environment than in a fixed analog one. In this paper, I will present an analysis of several interactive new media projects that I have been instrumental in developing. These are works of computer interface design that feature both photographic and cinematic imagery in ways that represent space, place and time in specific cultural contexts. This analysis will draw on theoretical writings about the indexical in cinema, photography, new media and language by such writers as Roland Barthes, Mary Ann Doane and Rosalind Krauss.

Forschertrieb, The Instinct for Research: Toward a Queer Psychoanalysis and a Psychoanalytical Queer Theory

by Diego Costa

Exploring the ways in which the digital works as an interface for queer sexuality (in fantasy and in practice) this paper argues for a Queer Theory return to psychoanalysis, and its tradition of theory-based practice and practice-based theory. The construction of the human body – its drives, its affects, its markings, its illnesses – have all been questions taken up by Queer Theory as it has had, from the beginning, the lived body as its main object of study. Yet Queer Theory’s rise to academic prominence has also coincided with an intense re-configuration of this human body and how it deals with its objects of desire through the increasing embedding of digital technology in the everyday. Taking up barebacking (unprotected sex among strangers) as an emblematic contemporary “problem” of and for queerness, the paper investigates the ways in which psychoanalytic theories of early childhood development help us understand what is at play between the new media subject and his new media object.

Creating Toy Cities: the experience design of transmedia objects

by Lauren Fenton

Media convergence in the form of transmedia storytelling franchises that distribute content across multiple platforms is a growing field of inquiry in media studies. A perspective of interdisciplinary design enables us to also investigate the emerging convergence of user experience across different media. This paper traces a common logic of experience design that informs the hybrid transmedia objects that are theme parks, digital games, public art pieces, and museums. This is the logic of the toy city, the community of attractions that operates at the juncture of the material and the digital, the spectacular and the interactive, to create a signature experience for the user that defies medium specific modes of feeling, knowing, and creating. Case studies highlight the ways in which these media phenomena operate on three levels, as affective objects, as technological devices, and as imaginative worlds.

Double Shadow: Digital Representation and Authorial Identity

by Jeanne Jo

As we spend time exploring the Internet, what digital remains do we unintentionally leave behind? Based on this information alone, how would a stranger construct the story of an individual’s history? Like an archeologist might collect data and examine physical remains to create a plausible human history, what might be derived from the examination of digital remains? Double Shadow is a conceptual film project that seeks an answer to these questions. The work takes the form of short biographical film based on “factual” information gleaned from the Internet.

The title Double Shadow pays homage to conceptual artist Sophie Calle’s piece, The Shadow (1981), in which Calle asked her mother to hire a detective to follow her, notate her daily activities, and photograph her. My digital double, my online 'shadow', tells a different story than I do. I maintain several websites, including one that documents my professional career as an artist, and I am a member of over a dozen social networking sites. Through a proxy, I hired an investigator to investigate my life using only the Internet as a resource. With the text and images uncovered, the investigator created "my" historical timeline. The data that was gathered was forwarded, via another proxy, to a screenwriter who used it to develop a character and write a screenplay. I then held a casting session where I searched for an actor to play “me.” Ultimately a cinematic artwork was made that raises and addresses issues about the blending of fact and fiction; the construction of identity or biography; surveillance; iterative processes, recorded human action and the creation of meaning; privacy within public space; archeology; archiving; and authorship and decision-making both online and within an art practice.

Making Trouble: redesigning the rituals of civic life

by Joshua McVeigh-Schultz

Harold Garfinkel, father of ethnomethodology, once described his methodological “preference to start with the familiar scenes and ask what can be done to make trouble.” My work applies this sensibility to the design of public rituals. I will present research from several collaborative vox pop experiments and situate this work as “making trouble” for the assumptions that traditional journalism creates when it uses social media to curate the public back to itself. Culminating with a call to arms, I argue that the designers and funders of new civic platforms should embrace the opportunity to redesign our public rituals from the ground up.

You Hold the Camera Now:  An Action Research Case Study of Pre-kindergarten Transmedia Narrative Design

by Gabriel Peters-Lazaro

This paper presents findings from a pilot research project called the Junior Audio-Video Club.  Conducted at USC's Institute for Multimedia Literacy,the project introduced media production skills along with concepts of recombinant and transmedia storytelling to two groups of four- and five-year old preschool students over the course of a 16-week curriculum.  Through an account of our experimental pedagogical approaches, and through an examination of student-produced media artifacts, this paper aims to identify key insights and challenges to the pursuit of early childhood media arts education, and to explore ways in which art practice as a research methodology can inform practical approaches to collaborative curriculum design, facilitation of pre-linear creative expression, and promotion of media literacy skills as an integrated component of early childhood literacy education.

Media-Making Madness: #Revolution, Media, and the Arab World

by Laila Shereen Sakr

This presentation will examine in what ways might social media in the Arab world be unique -- both in terms of how the society is operating, tightly woven; and in terms of media’s history in the Arab world, born in print form as an apparatus of the state since the Ottoman Empire? Using spatially designed information visualizations along with other representations, this presenter will demonstrate live media mixing as a research methodology whereby one can capture temporal specific conjunctures such that others can witness them. The purpose of doing so is to capture the special something that makes Twitter (and other social media sites) so feared that a government would shut down Internet to an entire nation during civil uprising and protest.

Neural Mediation: Instrument of Perception as Spectacle, Narrative, & Method

by Amanda Tasse

Drawing upon theoretical works in cognitive science, affect theory, and science fiction, I will analyze contemporary and historic representations of neural instrumentation throughout a variety of media formats, including a personal interactive animation project.  I will contextualize these representations of perceptual inquiry across interdisciplinary frameworks, highlighting suggested fantasies associated with each form.  I will show how uses of body-based sensors present the corporeal and cognitive systems as narrative spectacle.  As perceptual tools and methods are appropriated from the sciences, new arenas of hybrid design research practice are established.

Bios of the Participants

Anne Balsamo

Anne Balsamo's work focuses on the relationship between the culture and technology.  This focus informs her practice as a scholar, researcher, new media designer, and entrepreneur.  She is currently a Full Professor of Interactive Media in the School of Cinematic Arts, and of Communications in the Annenberg School of Communications.  Her first book, Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg Women (Duke UP, 1996) investigated the social and cultural implications of emergent bio-technologies.  Her most recent book Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work (Duke UP, 2011) examines the relationship between designing praxis, cultural reproduction and the technological imagination.

Rosemary Comella

Rosemary Comella is a new media artist with a background in the visual arts, in particular interface design, photography and video. Since 2000 she has been working as a researcher, project director, interface designer and programmer at the Labyrinth Project, a research initiative on interactive narrative. At Labyrinth, she developed the main interface for Tracing the Decay of Fiction: Encounters with a Film by Pat O’Neill, a collaborative project between experimental filmmaker Pat O'Neill, Kristy H.A. Kang and the Labyrinth team, and she helped direct The Danube Exodus: The Rippling Current of the River, an interactive installation with filmmaker Peter Forgács. Additionally, she developed Bleeding Through: Layers of Los Angeles, 1920-1986, an interactive installation and DVD-ROM, in collaboration with media artist Andreas Kratky, cultural historian Norman M. Klein and the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Germany. She directed and served as photographer for Cultivating Pasadena: From Roses to Redevelopment, an installation and DVD-ROM, including catalog, exhibited at the Pasadena Museum of California Art in 2005. Comella is currently creative director for Jewish Homegrown History: Immigration, Identity and Intermarriage, a public on-line archive and multi-screen museum installation that allows users to practice their own historiography by inserting their own histories and memories—using text, home movies, photographs and ephemera—into the contents of the website which includes previously published histories and newly uploaded scholar contributions.

Diego Costa

Diego Costa approaches art practice vis-à-vis methodological research as akin to the clinical labor of psychoanalysis. The reason and rigor normally associated with scientific methods are, thus, imbricated in rigorous attentiveness to the unconscious.  He asks how might we nurture a necessary distance from artwork and theory so that we can listen to the unconscious for the purposes of developing a symptomatology of the research (and the researcher)? Costa will discuss the importance of psychoanalytical literacy as a means to unsettle any kind of method regarding the human experience.  Screening examples of his experimental film and installation work, he explores how allowing the unconscious to take shape through art, coupled with a well-honed ability to read it utilizing the symbolic language of Lacanian psychoanalysis, can contribute to the formation of a new research paradigm where the researchers include their own desire among their objects of study.

Lauren Fenton

Lauren Fenton is a designer/scholar whose practice focuses on creating narratives that can be accessed through interactions with  the textures of real space and the manipulation of enticing objects. She thinks of her practice as  a process of  theorizing and inventing new emotions for people to experience, through an everyday encounter with design objects. Her work includes an award-winning multimedia storytelling experience with a tangible interface (The Interactive GeoSurface Map, with the Center for Land Use Interpretation and Onomy Labs), and the design of themed spaces, video installations, and animated short films.

Jeanne Jo

Jeanne Jo’s artistic practice and research investigates the systems of rules and patterns that emerge through iteration in the art making process.  In her performance art work, she examines and analyzes the interaction among structure, chance and repetition.  She will present research based on a new project called Double Shadow that explores the digital traces left unintentionally through Internet usage.  Her methodological focus is to speculate on the formation techniques of performance archeology.

Joshua McVeigh-Schultz

Joshua McVeigh-Schultz is a designer, scholar, and media maker in the Media Arts and Practice PhD program in the School of Cinematic Arts. He is interested in the intersection between interactivity design and rituals of public life. He completed an MA in Asian Studies at UC Berkeley and an MFA in UC Santa Cruz’s Digital Arts and New Media program. He works as a researcher for the Institute for Multimedia Literacy and is a member of the Civic Paths research group, studying new models of political engagement at the intersection of civics and pop-culture. He is also a designer in the Mobile and Environmental Research Lab, where he develops speculative experiences for built environments and mobile interaction.

Gabriel Peters-Lazaro

Gabriel Peters-Lazaro’s research focuses on the integration of media arts practice within institutions and pedagogies of early childhood and special needs education.  His work is informed by action research methodologies.  His presentation will discuss a media arts education pilot research project for pre-schoolers called “The Junior AV Club.”

Laila Shereen Sakr

Laila Shereen Sakr - VJ Um Amel is a media artist whose practices include ambient visual projection, live cinema performance, game design, database design, and innovative research   In her live VJ performance titled "A VJ Manifesto: Arab, Cyborg, Mother," she explores the implications of juxtaposing the identity of “mother” and a techno-feminist construct of cyborg within local and transnational expressions of “Arab.”  Her research methods uncover patterns of recursive action in nature where meaning emerges from the real-time media mixing. In this presentation, she will demonstrate VJing as a research methodology whereby one can capture temporal specific conjunctures such that others can witness them.