Tag Archives: MassArt

‘Volcadas con Silla’ by Courtney Brown

Courtney Brown performs 'Volcadas con Silla' at provocative.objects

myOwnMind, LLC and a little storyFirst out @ the UX Boston Conference #1

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i recently established a new concept based on a slew of back-logged experience design ideas i’ve decided to revisiting again and really start actively digging into — i’m calling this latest self re-invention design exercise myOwnMind, LLC, and the original idea came out of my own improvisational humor in a passing conversation with friends

in a fun back-and-forth exchange of energetic and fun discussion, i told my friends,

‘yeah, i actually used myOwnMind { to do that } — its, like, the original app’

as if my brain were some mysterious technology that i somehow ‘tapped’ into in the process of getting some design work done for a client

 

i’ve actually evolved the idea in a very wonderful sort of way into an actual, semi-realistic business concept by putting some company information up on LinkedIn … and i seem to keep getting a lot of amazing positive response from the brand and the concept — here’s the basic gist behind myOwnMind as copy-pasted directly from my LinkedIn Company Page Description:

By leveraging a variety of somewhat nebulous experimental cyberSurreal techniques — the interdisciplinary consulting team at myOwnMind deeply focuses on both client- and self-initiated project-based work to create change for good. 

Don’t just think about it — and definitely don’t merely complain about the frustrating state of the world as we’re experiencing it today — work with us to actively engage in collaborative efforts to change the world.

in just the last 2 to 3 days since posting the newly-designed logo, wordmark and tagline to LinkedIn and to the myOwnMind website, i’ve received more than a dozen congratulatory messages for people in my network as well as other messages from several companies and individuals reaching out and expressing interest in finding out more about myOwnMind — which is truly cool news by me, right?

 

one last tidbit i need to mention before folding up this little twisty origami blogPost is how happy i am and how lucky i feel to get the opportunity to present my storyFirst talk out at the very first UX Boston Conference at the Microsoft NERD Center on Saturday, July 19th

i first presented storyFirst out at MassArt as part of the Continuing Ed Lecture Series back in February of 2013 — and although i previous discussed ways to better leverage storytelling { and aspects of story via narrative and various narrative elements } in some casual settings, organizing my thoughts on the topic and presenting at MassArt gave me the tremendous opportunity to really hone in on how to initially articulate my ideas and discuss the benefits of putting story at the center of such an interdisciplinary and complex set of processes

now, thanks to this fantastic opportunity to revisit the talk via this public speaking engagement out at the UX Boston Conference, i’ve taken a few steps back and thought through the core message in a far deeper, richer way — i truly feel that this second installation of ‘A storyFirst Approach to Human-Centered Design‘ will more succinctly and more powerfully reveal the core message of the talk while also elaborating on the significance and value of putting story smack dab in the middle of the process

i’m really looking forward to giving the talk at the UX Boston Conference and i hope to see you there!

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a little game

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my art can sometimes feel a little ‘all over the place’

i don’t like to limit myself too, too much when it comes to my vehicles of expressive delivery — that combined with my natural tendency toward a scattered but exciting sense of ADHD plus my rather lengthy and continually-expanding collection of influences and inspirations makes for a rather eclectic body of work that i sometimes try to organize into threads or streams of my work

in my design thesis from Dynamic Media Institute, ‘confounded: future fetish design performance for human advocacy,’ i purposely chose the term ‘streams‘ for a few reasons:

  1. i feel like my subconscious is a far more present and powerful force in my creatively expressive, personal work;
  2. i enjoy following my subconscious — my streams of subconscious — to archeologically mine for the deeper, personally-symbolic inner significance that i’ve accumulated like a patina over the course of my life;
  3. i know that i naturally tend to bury certain emotions, memories and stories in the strange style that a chipmunk saves away little morsels for the long winter ahead — these might be feelings that are far too shocking and powerful for me to handle in any conscious manner in the current moments i am living in, and i am almost certain, for the most part, that a significant amount of people partake in this similar activity as a mere means of surviving the ‘day to day‘ dysfunction and chaos we all encounter along our life’s journeys;
  4. i also tend to hide away from time to time, sometimes for large spans of time, greatly depending upon my mood and certain life events — i can nicely attribute this behavior, to sort of tuck myself away inside my shell, to being born under the sign of Cancer — the symbol for Cancer, of course, is the crab — and after spending many an afternoon tide pooling with my wife and son, flipping rocks along the shallow shoreline out at Lynch Park in Beverly among other beautiful Atlantic coastline seaside retreats, i’ve developed an observational understanding of not only the ‘tough, outer exterior’ of the crab and the notion of ‘crabbiness’ that might be somewhat symbolically mapped to the drastic shift in moodswings i experience on a fairly regular cycle, but i also now better ‘get‘ how these little pinchy critters live — tucking themselves away, a bit under the sand or between the rocks as the tide ebbs and flows — its an interesting lifestyle to study and reflect upon, especially knowing that there are definitely some similarities between my own behavior and that of these amazing little moody crustacea;
  5. i guess i’ve veered away from exploring why the term ‘streams‘ so nicely captures the nature of my work and certain categories of recurring episodes in my work — this last enumerated bullet point, to get back to the concept of these streams of subconscia, pertains to the rather interesting evolution within certain streams of my work — as i tend to, at times, act more like a chess player than an artist, as i move and follow both the journey of certain objects and installations from literally geopolitical ‘place to place’ as well as the state of its existence into the next, and sometimes even beyond itself out into the metaphorical afterlife of the piece or its sub-componenture

today’s update on the information kiosk i purchased from Border’s Bookstores prior to the closing of the bookseller chain brings us just a few yards away from where it previously resided over the last 6 to 9 months or so — i don’t think this will be its final destination, by any means, however, i can see an interesting new stage in the piece’s evolution coming together in my mind’s eye

i original purchased the kiosk to build out a prototype for my Laugh Observation Library back at DMI @ MassArt — the LOL included a bookcase collection of 100 bottles containing a variety laughter samples per bottle along with this oddly orange information booth housing a laughScan Station to actually activate each sample for further faux-scientific research into humor and the human phenomena behind laughter

the original and only installation of the Laugh Observation Library appeared in The Pooka Lounge in Bakalar Gallery at MassArt as part of forensicEvidence — the name of my final showcase of work in the 2011 MassArt Thesis Show from my DMI @ MassArt experience

in retrospect the statement that my micro-installment made perfectly fit the bill regarding my discoveries around both MassArt and gallery exhibition in general — and this particular piece, although not exactly aesthetically matching the clinically sterile environment of a traditional scientific laboratory setting, especially that of a forensic investigation crime lab, really seemed to appropriately comment on my personal feelings regarding what Brian O’Doherty describes as the ‘white cube‘ controlled context of the gallery space associated with High Art

in fact, this installation and my personal aesthetic not only provided a silent and polite, subtle sociological commentary on both Art and Science as rather haughty professions, but the rather organic, make-shift style of my work also appropriately mocked the institutionalized aspects of high formality associated with not only Art and Science, but even with Design itself for encouraging a somewhat exclusive attitude within its highest of the high socio-professional, pseudo-political circles

the pieces i presented in forensicEvidence were the dead remains from my work at MassArt — the physical evidence of my work, but also of the pretend criminal activity i either partook in or witnessed while researching and working on my art at MassArt — now, of course, art-making is not exactly a criminal activity, although sometimes it can feel like such an endeavor when living and working outside of the inner protected sanctum of academia and its related artedness, but in some ways i felt like i definitely witnessed what i came to call ‘Crimes Against Creativity‘ — i won’t elaborate too, too much here on these crimes i witnessed, but i definitely felt a bit disappointed in some of the people and vibes i encountered while working toward my graduate degree at MassArt and unfortunately these were events, policies and behaviors that i will not soon forget and nor would i ever expect an institution of higher learning to simply grin and bear without pursuing some follow-up activity to properly set the record straight and rectify unacceptable, malicious and ignorant behavior

… anyhow …

following forensicEvidence — the kiosk remained in the back of my truck, nicely sheltered from the elements, but definitely getting in the way of any sane semblance of life

a month or so after i took the information booth out of my truck and left it at the head of my driveway — although a bit silly-looking in its now more ‘natural’ surroundings in this highly wooded area of Boxford, i actually loved seeing this ugly, orange desk-like fixture from a typically highly-corporate retail environment now planted in the midst of trees and lush, green ferns and other fertile elements of the great outdoors — and i was extremely happy not to have followed my original bad instinct to just leave the kiosk in a nearby cemetery { after, of course, taking some choice photodocumentation of this potentially-strange, satiric gravestone tribute to The Information Age — which would’ve certainly been bound to be an entirely illegal but hilarious act of vandalism or refuse disposal in the eyes of the court, i’m sure }

but now, many months later, after surviving an Autumn, Winter and Springtime out in the driveway, i decided to drag the information kiosk up the steps into our backyard and set it out just at the edge of our deck

here i hope to festively decorate the kiosk with some simple crushed stone around its base — maybe arranging some beautiful potted plants on the tabletop and around its stable and heavy periphery — perhaps this Summer and into the Fall, this will be our funerary preparations for the kiosk before finally allowing myself to emotionally let go of a piece that never quite got beyond the prototypic stage — this might be a truly wonderful way to commemorate the short lifespan of this mysterious object that i’ve carried around with me from place to place, an object that has come to symbolize the weight of the personal information we carry around with us in life

its time for me to prepare

these are the last few months i will live with this bizarre physical manifestation of my memories, feelings and unnecessarily burdensome set of heavy experiences i still find myself hanging onto

i will be certain to document these last arrangements i make with the kiosk — i hope to focus on growing something positive and beautiful on, around and through the information booth — to evolve some of the confounded emotions and energies that remain into / toward a blossoming garden of new vegetal information for further maturation and growth and positive seed for the future

A culture of curation

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PHOTO TAGLINE: the original cover and title concept as designed, developed and implemented by the Bureau of cyberSurreal investigation

one of the 4 streams of my design and art research and work included in my thesis from back at Dynamic Media Institute at Massachusetts College of Art and Design touched upon my curation &/or co-curation and involvement in several gallery exhibitions — putting together these shows helped forge and fulfill some personal dreams for me as inspired by the inclusive, immersive and collaborative, interdisciplinary spirit of the ArtRages events frequently put on by Mobius Artists Group in Boston as well as other performance and music-oriented, multi-act shows in the area like: rösS Hamlin’s OpeNFauceT Productions; David Wengertzman’s Digital Cabaret series; Burlesque Revival Association; Leah Callahan’s Les Cabaret des Enfants Terribles; Chris Mascara’s Scara’s Night Out; and The Steamy Bohemians’ Jerkus Circus

anyhow — its fun to watch how influence and inspiration flows within and across various communities over time — and its equally interesting to see the evolution of ideas as they branch and grow and move along waves of people and places

after starting grad school at MassArt in 2008 and poking around campus and the community there i soon discovered that grad students could reserve Doran Gallery to curate shows and exhibit work

i took the dream-like inspiration from these past shows and events that i’ve held near and dear to my heart and brought the collaborative and celebratory spirit i found in them to my work and research from ‘stream 3: art shows, a streaming cycle of’ from my thesis, confounded: future fetish design performance for human advocacy — and in retrospect the shows i am extremely proud of the shows i dreamt up and put on and love the collaborations and event-based shows that blossomed from this fertile garden of amazing Boston show history to pick from as my inspiration

prior to my first curatorial effort at MassArt — American Cheese: an introspectionDMI MassArt colleagues Colin Owens and Dennis Ludvino curated several shows out at Doran that helped pave the way for the series of further student-run design curation that seems to have nicely inspired a long legacy of gallery exhibitions and event curation at Dynamic Media Institute

by starting up the efforts to officially catalog and celebrate DMI’s ASCii, if /then and Inter-Akt exhibitions at Doran Gallery i hope to help document and commemorate some of the early history of our show culture at MassArt’s graduate design program — i know these shows inspired me with an excited sense of the interdisciplinary and immersive experience of interacting with functional, living and working design prototypes in a gallery setting — certain boundaries of High Art exclusivity seemed to instantly break down with the inclusion of various inputs and outputs and the participatory invitation to the gallerygoer to actually touch and interact with the pieces on display in the gallery setting — the vibrant din of sound and conversation filled the room with enthusiastic conjecture about what the artwork ‘does’ in its clever, premeditated ‘playing’ with its audience

the feeling of these shows immediately pulsed in a far more alive way than the standard trip to the MFA ever conveyed to me — the work on display in this student gallery interacted with the gallery participants { no longer mere passive viewers } to meet them halfway in any interpretation of the artists’ intentions behind each piece

i hope to respectfully document these amazing early DMI shows out at MassArt with my efforts to write and composite the book A culture of curation

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the theatre of Work, ReVisited

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back in 2009 when i still conducted critical design research for Dynamic Media Institute in Boston i decided to start up a presentation series aimed specifically at helping my greener friends coming into the industry with some of the basic challenges they might encounter along the journey of their profesional lives

i’ve encountered more than my fair share of interesting twists and turns in my rather adventurous career as an accomplished experience design professional — and some of the joys and tribulations of navigating the glorious terrain can benefit by simply continuously building a better and better understanding and awareness of the environments in which we need to perform

in delving into the digital archives of my mind i recently rediscovered a few slides appropriately titled the theatre of Work — survival tips for newcomers to the workForce

the theatre of Work

the phrase by itself starts to imply some of my subconscious views and feelings regarding: the social dynamics; the essential personal behaviors we need to exude while performing; and general feel of the landscape set up by the workaday world as a means of reaching toward success for ourselves and for the companies we work for

i am an experience designer and a performance artist

i never studied the theatre, which is an important key differentiator i need to continually remind myself of along the way

its also vitally important to have an unrelenting sense of self-awareness and continuous introspective reflection for the kind of trek we’re all on within ANY industry

just this hybrid mash-up between designer and artist can have extremely important internally conflicting motivations embedded within the very nature of each role

but anyhow, i digress { i just heard someone on blogging across the way stand up and scream, ‘DigreSsioN!’ ala that famous set of passages from A Catcher in the Rye ;] }

after living a little longer and experiencing a few more years of this life of work we all live and breathe, i believe i have even deeper, more profound wisdom to share than i originally intended by designing up a few slides for a future-such talk to be about workerly advice

i am therefore re-opening this thread of thought — copy-pasting the open Keynote file and the PSD folder from my portable harddrive back onto my current active MacBook Pro device to really start digging into what new significance i can bring to the table to help people navigate the choppy waters and hopefully not make all of the same foolish mistakes i’ve made along the way

i know my triathlon could’ve gone a LOT smoother so far had i just had proper mentorship or perhaps better personal self-awareness and more thoughtful empathy to guide me

but i’m an impatient clown, for the most part

i always want the impossible and i design to reach for the bluest of the bluest skies

i would be more of a fool, however, if i continue to noodle and clown without ever learning and growing for the journeys i’ve made — and i feel that if i share some of my story in a thoughtful and meaningful way it might actually make up for my own silly idiocies and hopefully make for a better overall experience for colleagues, friends, acquaintances and frenemies that even care to listen at this point

i need to focus on my storyFirst presentation out at Massachusetts College of Art for the next few weeks, but i also hope to put some time into this theatre of Work concept, too, as it is near and dear to my heart — i want to help people and give them better perspective and hopefully facilitate better and better experiences in the world through my designwork and my design leadership

but, until then — shove off, bitchez! ;]

 

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coming, to a theatre near you

as an avid collaborator — and relentlessly sillyman and fool — my good fortune dropped me into the project work of Christopher Kentley Field back at MassArt’s relatively underground and superCool design graduate program Dynamic Media Institute

i mean, its like i had no shame at all when i take a retrospective egoSurfing search of love down interactive, online memory lane, ya know? looks like i’d do just about anything to ‘earn’ a graduate degree, ya know?

anyhow, Chris got the like of Andrew Ellis, myself and some even cooler people together to put together this excerpted short from a feature film idea that Chris had written prior to coming to DMI — see what you think — i mean, i’m pretty proud of how it came out despite the fact that i’m playing a part that seems way too naturally-acted by me — yep, that’s right, folks, i’m basically a washed-up, old, homeless-like dude on the Boston T — a real flattering way to put myself ‘out there’ as an actor, right?

anyhow, here’s the clip ‘Deadbeat’ courtesy of Christopher K Field and Vimeo — enjoy! ;]

Deadbeat (first cut) from Christopher Field on Vimeo.

..:: teaching IxD ::..

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this Spring semester at Massachusetts College of Art and Design — which is, like, almost over, sadly enough — i got the distinct pleasure of taking the materials, sequencing and my approach to teaching Interaction Design { by night for MassArt’s Continuing Education Department } and filtering the entire course down into an independent study with Aliyah Domash

i didn’t realize it until we met up to work on the fine details of how Interaction Design might work at this independent study scale — but, that whole ‘small world’ kind of aspect of the design community in Boston was working its crazy magic from the onset, and strangely enough, i already met Aliyah and got to see her work from a semester or 2 back by sitting as a guest critic in one of the final presentations of Alison Kotin’s Foundations of Graphic Design course — anyhow, flashback to that class and i got to see a lot of hand-drawn, amazing depictions of an artichoke, all in black and white, cropped and composed and mounted very professionally and pinned to the wall — it was a fantastic and dynamic final critique that i’m sure involved a smörgåsbord of hummus and cookies and water and other potluck snackage as a part of this wonderful celebratory discussion of all the fine work and progress each student made over the course of the semester

so, as you can probably tell, i have a certain obsession with foodly comestibles AND a little bit of an issue with portion control, right? ;]

but, back to our regularly scheduled topic — meeting Aliyah in Alison’s design class

anyhow, that night and these sorts of conversations with students and faculty and different nuance of design potentialities always makes me happy and excited about the kind of design community we have at MassArt and in the Greater Boston Area in general — and what? with AIGA Boston, BostonCHI, Boston Cyberarts, Dorkbots, IxDA, Pecha Kucha Night Boston, Refresh Boston, Upgrade Boston, UXPA and the myriad university-driven lectures, hackathons and networking opportunities steeped in designery, you almost can find it difficult to keep up with just the community, forget about the most current trends, buzz and general discourse that accompanies the fine world of design in the general locality

who would’ve known that a year out i’d be working to teach and mentor Aliyah at MassArt in this wonderful independent study setup, right? small world, crazy small, in fact — and then, its just utterly phenomenal to see how quickly a student like Aliyah comes in on day one, starts up with the first 3 more analytic exercises in experience design deconstruction and all — and then through reading, dissection, personal and professional reflection and our near-weekly conversational sessions at MassArt and the project work that puts the focus on active exploration of interaction and user-centered design as a theory and a practice and an empathic journey to guiding this bizarre, almost otherwoldly force we call Design in a way that keeps real, live people at the center of our approach and goals as design professionals — well, its just amazing to see Aliyah’s progress over the semester and to see the full spectral journey of her final project work for final critique and completion of the course

its been a really wonderful semester — really interesting to see how i’ve had to flex and bend the materials and approach, only slightly in all actuality, to keep the design of the course itself ultimately very interactive, human and fun

i’m really looking forward to the final critique, although i know we’ll miss meeting up on a semi-regular basis with the good excuse of putting some credits on the roster while hopefully also digging into what design can really mean for all of us as both professionals and people exploring the world through the filter of human-centered experience design

 

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mediaLuscious Design + Art Review

i just recently finished editing up the official exhibition catalog for mediaLuscious Design + Art Review — thanks to everyone for not only showing your work and participating in such an amazing gallery exhibition, but for also patiently putting up with my random email requests for photos, writings, input and feedback over the last few weeks

i have to say — this is probably the best book i’ve put together to-date, much better-looking in my mind’s eye than my own thesis even, which can probably be contributed to the fact that this project of capturing the spirit, energy, community and fun of this show was done for DMI and The DMI Family moreso than myself

anyhow, after a few more tweaks here ‘n there, i will be sure to post this up to Blurb and get a print proof to deliberate — and then and only then the book will be open for more public consumption via Blurb, ISSUU or wherever

[: what a show :]

correspondence from forsensicEvidence

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In Spring of 2011 I participated in MassArt’s MFA Thesis Show III in Bakalar Gallery, installing my microExhibit ‘forensicEvidence’ in The Pooka Lounge. I designed a fold-out postcard that mapped out my art objects on display in the little room toward the front of the gallery space — and I designed the map to spoof on CSI, making my overall installation look like a crime scene, even claiming the gallery offices as a personal, artistic crime lab for my fictional Bureau of cyberSurreal investigation.

I think I just have a thing for Horatio Caine — the overacted, ridiculous character on CSI: Miami portrayed by the utterly brilliant David Caruso. I also love William Shatner, too. Jack Klugman in Quincy. You get the picture.

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And I’m a bit of a cheesy actor myself sometimes. I take myself somewhat seriously, but not so serious as to never lighten up and just have some fun. But anyhow, back to the show …

‘forensicEvidence’ featured an array of pieces, all in various states, I guess, or at least somehow covering little stops along the full continuum of creative expression available to all artists, designers, performers and musicians. Some mediatypes were not covered in the microExhibit. I featured mostly what I consider to be ‘the dead arts’ — those more traditional, object-based creative artifacts that sit on the wall or on a pedestal. These are the kind of works that — at least since my rigorous research, studies and work at Dynamic Media Institute — when I approach these more traditional artworks now, I tend to think, ‘Yeah, but what does it do?’ I think one of the points of fE was to point out this feeling to others, at least those colleagues and gallerygoers that might’ve seen some of the shows, presentation talks and other works I created in the 3+ years I studied at DMI. By comparison, these were definitely the dead remains of projects in my creative streams, these evolving cycles of cybernetic ( one might say ‘cyberSurreal’ ) work final found like roadkill in the gallerySpace.

I will definitely come back to this topic and the major themes I expressed through this microExhibit, but for today I wanted to elaborate more on an object I titled ‘correspondence‘.

Take a look at the map:

Tucked into the corner of the gallery, somewhere between my excerpt from the Laugh Observation Library and disConnections, a simple, plain, manila envelope sat on the beautiful, blonde wooden gallery floor. The envelope is unassuming and could be misconstrued as trash, potentially not actually an intentional part of the show at all. But its definitely marked on the map and was an entirely intentional component to the show.

Through my active work in Gunta Kaza’s ‘Design as Experience‘ at DMI, I almost immediately divined a subconscious thread connecting most of my work, or at least one of the many threads I chose to pick up and follow back into the curled up inner recesses of my psyche. In this particular case, I seemed to have this fetish for containers: bottles, cans, boxes, envelopes — anything you could open and close and potential hide or reveal things with, these metaphors for ‘what’s inside’ seemed to keep coming up as I worked on trusting my instinct and quickly working on a daily basis with physical materials. In fact, I even consider each one of us as human beings to be living, breathing containers — each of us carrying with us certain energies, experiences, memories, issues and other ‘unknowns’ that typically remain hidden in our polite, public lives, but that could spring out at any moment depending on our daily interactions with people, objects and environments in the real world.

But I digress once again.

The envelope contained pieces of paper — about 4 or 5 printed messages, all pertaining to a controversial petition that at one point circulated around the MassArt Graduate social and political circles. I was upset about this petition and didn’t know what to do about the negative, angry energy that seemed to build and fester inside me. The original document was an attempt to oust my department from the MFA Thesis Shows, which I found not only utterly preposterous but extremely offensive and actually quite sad. Here were a group of my supposed peers, right? Near-future fellow MFA candidates that might go on to become university-level professors or potential future leaders in the fine art mileau — and here they were acting in the most ignorant and exclusionary way imaginable. You tend to think of artists as cool and mellow, rather accepting people that fit the typical blueprint of liberal lifestyles and all, but here about 22 of my colleagues suddenly became nothing more than potential assistant manager fodder, utter corporate politicians in every sense of the phrase. It was just so uncool to find out about and it definitely affected my workflow as an artist, designer and student at MassArt. And I couldn’t get out of the maelstrom of negative energy started by this petition in time to really focus on my work and graduate on time.

You know, you can’t just run around screaming in horror about this stuff, right? And you can only complain or try to fix it with the administration so many times. And then you just need to get back to work and express what you feel, what you experience. So, I decided to make a piece about it. And that piece was ‘correspondence’.

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‘correspondence’ was my attempt to provide a fair and equal written and documented counterpoint to the petition. I mean, if I couldn’t resolve these matters post-petition with my 22 colleagues, why wouldn’t I either write my own petition or maybe just produce other similarly official documents in an answer to the request set up in the petition? If I put my written, emotional reactions to the petition inside the manila envelope and left it on the floor of my microExhibit like some sort of unimportant debris ( as, I guess, they indeed were ) would anybody even notice? Would anyone pick up the envelope and read my thoughts and reactions to the petition? And if they did, would they be the parents, friends, colleagues and faculty of my 22 colleagues involved in these political antics?

I’ve noticed that, besides this return to the container as a material vocabulary in my personal expressive works, I also tend to leverage actual tension whenever possible. I think its part of the natural humorist in me, at least that’s my retrospective assessment at this point. But in order for comedy to succeed — even if the very content of that comedy is more on the side of black humor — in order for comedy to succeed you need to set up tension for the audience. The tension is just one part of a 3 part system called ‘The Benign Violation Theory‘. And in this case the tension came readymade in the total chance Duchampian sense of the word. I seem to figure out a timely tension to tap and then, at times, use that tension to my advantage. And that’s what I was trying to do here with ‘correspondence’, although the actual inspiration for the project work was anything but funny to me.

I think at one point I wanted to write a letter to George. Later on, toward the end of the semester I just needed to let it all go. But I feel that the matters of this petition and the fact that the readymade tension and the social segmentation between each department at MassArt, well, it was never fully addressed to my liking. There was no resolution to any of it. And that’s why I don’t feel bad at all to candidly talk about my work like this. To let you know the real story. I mean, I probably won’t name names or anything, at least not in this post, but I’m pretty tempted to at least list out the initials of each and every one of the graduates that signed that petition.

But back to the work.

I’ll admit, this piece was thrown in as an afterthought. And if you think about it, not a lot of time or energy goes into putting a big, cartoonish manila envelope with written secret messages in it on the floor of a gallery. But in this case, its the thought that counts. And the setup.

I don’t really know if anyone read the contents of ‘correspondence’, but I certainly hope so. I hope it caused a little anxiety, some return tension back atchya, that sorta thing, right? And I hope it might’ve made a few of the 22 start to think about the real people on the DMI side of the fence that innocently thought we could show with our colleagues with no controversy, politics or emotional repercussions. I mean, we all paid the same entry fee, right? And we might take different classes, but that’s no excuse to be so utterly insensate. I thought people came to creativity with a sense of empathy and a need to understand ‘the others’ in the world.

There was one morning that I arrived at The Pooka Lounge — I needed to troubleshoot my ‘bottled laughter’ prototype on a regular basis throughout the weeklong course of the show — I got to the gallery, entered my area, and it seemed the envelope was gone. Was it confiscated? Neatly tucked away, perhaps? Maybe somebody felt remorse or shame or who knows what. But anyhow, I found it pushed up inside the information kiosk of my Laugh Observation Library piece, so either someone thought it was misplaced garbage or they wanted to hide the evidence of the petition and my reactions to it.

I didn’t get the chance to sit in a hidden corner and watch if people picked up the envelope during the opening or the length of the show. I only have that one bit of proof that someone moved it, hid it away. I wonder sometimes if my imaginative flights of conditional ‘what ifs’ might be more important to my process than the actual forsenic evidence I would’ve accumulated with a webCam capture of the show. I think I put together certain projects just to help discover what the important questions are. To build out certain stories and scenarios in my mind as a way to run through the possibilities. It might be the experience designer in me coming out in projects like this, projects that run somewhere between participatory performance art and concept. A clever plant or maybe a trap. At the very least, a lure, an invitation, a provocation.

Anyone wanting to read up further on this and any of my other projects can pick up my thesis from Blurb. Its called ‘confounded: future fetish design performance for human advocacy‘ and I think by continuing my writing, by reflecting further on the work and research I’ve done, I am actually beginning to better understand my thesis and what I originally set out to do with my work at DMI.

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curatorial reflections: exhibition-event as sociopsychological laboratory

an excerpt from Provocative Objects: debriefed

And with the passage of time we can re-open the mind like a delicate oystershell and mine the lobular cortexes for the remaining little pearls of wit and wisdom.

Its been a while now. November 12, 2010 seems like a distant, milky dream to me now.

My co-curatorial partner in cyberSurreal investigations David Tamés asks in his earlier passages to this exhibition catalog — and its a bit of a meta-conversation between us now — about the success of Provocative Objects: the extradition as an art exhibition. Anyone that really got to know me through our time and collaborations together at Dynamic Media Institute knows that I pretty much laugh at the very concept of ‘success’. Of course, at this point I’ve been known to laugh at / for just about any reason. But I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss ‘success’ and define for the world:

  1. what it was we set out to do with Provocative Objects
  2. what we accomplished by using Doran Gallery as our sociological art laboratory for a subconscious streaming cycle of art shows

By looking back, using these simple criteria, we can certainly transpire well above the coinflip follies of failure and success and really get down to some storytelling artifactual proof that helps the reader better understand the invaluable psychological underpinnings behind the makings of this kind of show.

 

To best understand Provocative Objects — to really know what it was all about — we need to take a quick trip back to my first attempt to put on gallery exhibition. In late Autumn of 2009 I scrambled to email out an invitation to the graduate students here at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. This call for work aimed to get DMI and SIM together, collaborating on a themed show in Doran Gallery — and the show theme I stitched together from my critical research in humor and new media loosely hung on the title concept ‘American Cheese: an introspection’ and a quote from the famous stand-up comedian, playwright, author and moviestar Steve Martin:

You know, a lot of people come to me and they say, “Steve, how can you be so fucking funny?” There’s a secret to it, it’s no big deal. Before I go out, I put a slice of bologna in each of my shoes. So when I’m on stage, I feel funny.

But seriously, folks — I thought an email alone could be the catalyst, or at least the inspirational nudge, to put on a really amazing show. And more importantly, I think I trusted that this email along with my vague wish to bring SIM and DMI together in the same exhibition space would help build new and amazing social connections between these 2 like-minded but politically dispersed academic schools on campus.

I ran around like a circus rodeo jackass for a bit, trying to get all the procedures, policies, rules and regulations down and did all the administrative busywork needed to get the show set up, but with the fast passage of time and very few submissions to the show, my original social purposes fell a bit to the wayside. American Cheese, while successful on many levels regarding general gallery attendance, quality of exhibited work and DMI colleague participation, fell short on my personal goal of creating new social ties to SIM.

 

In the Summer of 2010 I put out a new call for work. This time, instead of a quaint email to DMI and SIM, I actually made the request for submissions very public, reaching out beyond the MassArt Graduate community pool by placing my first copy-paste post out to Rhizome. I think this better set the stage in many ways.

Firstly, Rhizome would help provide a far broader context and larger vision for what this next show could become. The organization, based in New York City, garners the attention of artists, designers, performers and technologists from around the world. The Rhizome online community started in 1996 and continues to grow and evolve. As stated on their web site mission page:

Rhizome is dedicated to the creation, presentation, preservation, and critique of emerging artistic practices that engage technology.

and this mission seemed perfectly aligned with the kind of future-forward design thinking we see in the project work and research done through Dynamic Media Institute.

Then, inspired by the ingenious marketing suggestions of Don Lapre ( http://www.hollywoodmemoir.com/don-lapre ), I took my post to Rhizome as a ‘tiny classified ad’ and copy-pasted it into several other local ( and not so local ) online community sites. I emailed directly to artists I know out at Mobius. Similar personal emails went out to anyone and everyone that I thought might be interested participating. This time around, I was determined to put on a show that started with the core group of my colleagues at DMI but branched out to include other work, providing a greater context for all the work at the exhibition. This was going to go beyond the SIM to DMI collaborative concept originally set forth with American Cheese. Forget SIM. With that initial failed attempt under my belt, I wanted to bust out and not even begin to consider MassArt as my little box of crayons. I no longer needed to color inside the lines. And I needed to reach out, outside the box, not with my thinking ( as we’re all so aptly encouraged to do as creative people, through the most sickening set of corporate clichés and hillbilly mantras ) but with my actions. I also wanted to expand the notion of what a new media exhibit can be by including artwork created in any mediatype, not just onscreen or electronics-based project work. Video, music, performance art, new media and traditional art and design works: why not show it all in the same place? Under one roof? At the same show? Crazytalk, right?

The original call for work to our ‘cyberSurreal, interdisciplinary and immersive exhibit-event & experience’ included the following paragraph:

We are looking for pieces that instigate the viewer-participant-gallerygoer or blur the line and leave the audience wondering. Physical traditional art objects — dynamic prototypes — video, performative and conceptual work — we’re looking to collect an eclectic body of work to provoke viewer-participant exploration, thought, discussion and interaction. There will be a vaguely-defined ‘stageSpace’ for certain event-related ‘performances’ throughout the evening as well as numerous ‘objects’ or installations.

Here we have the beginning collection of measurable criteria for us to properly assess the outcome of the show. Qualitative though they may be, we can see that there were some definite, clear goals in mind. The ulterior motives of building out our creative context and creating new social extensions for DMI were all cleverly hidden in the messaging mix, but the surface setup for Provocative Objects began to elicit proposals almost immediately.

I remember talking to David early on, I think it was with the very first batch of email proposals I received. I was baffled by the fact that, unlike American Cheese ( with submissions from colleagues at DMI and me ), this show was beginning to feel a lot more international. Literally.

My first submission came in from Albert Negredo in Barcelona. My second submission came in via mobile phonecall while I was out at The Apple Store — this time from Anthony Murray in Brooklyn, New York. I got emails from Tokyo, Rome, San Francisco and Argentina. This show and these submissions really fascinated me and I need to talk to someone about how crazy it was getting. And David, of course, understood the general consequences of my actions and why I might be getting these international submissions, ‘Lou, you put the call for work out on Rhizome,’ he explained with some comedic emphasis, implying that that detail alone stretched my cry for work out to the more global level.

I can’t remember the location of this conversation at this late date, but I am assuming we were in the cozy confines of Penguin Pizza up on Mission Hill. David and I joined forces at that point, making The Penguin our first official ‘office’ and meeting place for the eventual and very fictional Bureau of cyberSurreal investigation. David graciously offered to collaborate on this rapidly expanding exhibit-event, and I humbly accepted this opportunity to work together and build out the show using our mutually-aligned talents and resources.

 

I scheduled the show to take place in November. Luckily this time I had built in adequate time for David and I to really dig in and put on a larger, more inclusive show. With 3+ months we could properly square away all the granular detail and logistics need for Provocative Objects. This was turning out to be a far more complicated gallery event. We were lucky to enlist the assistance of many of our colleagues at MassArt to help make the night smooth and fun for all the artists involved.

 

But could it work? Underneath the surface of this exhibit-event — a little below the notion of traditional artwork, performance, music and new media all peaceably living together in sin — was the playful, provocative notion of bringing together the people behind these amazing pieces, all in one space at the same time. Provocative Objects was a social mixing experiment and Doran Gallery became our laboratory.

The answer, for me, although not truly measurable by any qualitative or quantitative stretch of the imagination, is a resounding yes. It can work, this idea of putting on a cross-disciplinary and inclusive show to end all shows. Provocative Objects now serves the Bureau as a happy and distinct model to follow for future-such show-building activities. And the idea of using the show, this ‘exhibit-event’ as we called it, as an interesting excuse to pull together so many disparate but spiritually like-minded creative people and cliques together on one night under one roof, well, that idea proved, to me, to be extremely fruitful and rewarding.

We enjoyed a full house of gallerygoers at Doran Gallery on November 10, 2011, ebbing and flowing throughout our time-based evening of interdisciplinary arts, for sure, but nonetheless rather packed with wonderful artists, musicians, performers and participants. The work on display covered the full spectrum of art, the entire continuum of creative expression. And the conversation, the participation, the wandering and exploration of the space, pieces, people and performances, all attest, via personal memories and stories, to the truly provocative night we had out at the show.

Somewhere buried deep inside the thematic grumblings of the show I had this notion about the title and ideas behind Provocative Objects. I had inadvertently stolen the title from Sherry Turkle’s book Evocative Objects — I guess I sort of repurposed the title of her book as a way to brand a series of my own object-based micro-electronic prototypic experiments at DMI. These objects, my Provocative Objects, were ‘machines gone wild‘ — an expression of this truly cartoonish Freudian fear of our technology — whereby I dreamt up and created devices that would aggressively attack the user. I think that we’re only slowly beginning to understand some of the undercurrent negative social ( or unsocial ) side-effects our technologies introduce into  our technohumanic ecosystem. Anyhow, this was the original concept behind the name of my project series. The concept and name evolved to become the theme of the show.

Somewhere along my thoughtstreams I began to ask myself ‘Which medium is the most dynamic medium?’ A bit of an asinine question to ask, I’m sure, but I really started to wonder about dynamic media and performance art, and to then wonder about this term ‘dynamic’. Can machines be more dynamic than people? Which of the 2 performs in a more dynamic way: people or machines?

Anyhow, I’m going to totally skip over the definition of the word dynamic, not a lot of time here in this essay to redesign the wheel or the brand of an academic program. Its just not my thing. But, I do want to let you in on a little secret, dear reader. The idea of collecting together all of this amazing international artwork for display at Doran Gallery was more about luring the people to the room than about putting on an incredible artshow. The ‘objects’ in the title Provocative Objects are the people, not the art ( vision of Solient Green come to mind, the final scenes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, To Serve Man, its a cook book, that sort of science fiction flip of the brain on a skillet ). David and I, as the fictional Bureau of cyberSurreal investigation, put on a wildly successful, highly attended artists’ reception and performance spectacle, indeed — but we also got to see so many different social circles wonderfully coming together in the fascinating ripples created by our clever little box. Our first person, eye witness report on Provocative Objects proves the indelible value of putting on this kind of show. And the value resides not in the objects on the wall, the sculpture and performance art and installations. These are the subtly-planted cool excuse to get people together, the beautiful seeds planted around room to provoke interesting conversations. The most dynamic medium, I would argue, resides on the side of the human element. People perform in far less predictable ways than machines. And people, for me, are the Provocative Objects. We create our art and our technology as a way to better understand ourselves as individuals, as a society and as a culture. We are the Provocative Objects.