(Under)mining open source
A good thread has developed over the the last week on the iDC listserv (you can go here to subscribe) inspired by an Infoworld article titled "Opening Up iTunes U," in which writer Jon Udell discusses Apple's use of proprietary standards, such as the m4a files used by iTunes. May find this practice is problematic, in part because Apple has struck deals with academic institutions to distribute podcasts of lectures through the iTunes store, but, because of Apple's "walled garden" standards, only Apple hardware and software can play the podcasts, striking down the academic notion of open collaboration and distribution.
Some posters on the listserv were unsuprised, noting Apple's history of designing software for its hardware, effectively shutting out much of the computing world. There are many reasons -- financial and technical -- why they did this, but the fact remains that Apple doesn't have a long history of using or supporting open source or open standards.
What does this mean for the education world? For one, we are in large part slaves to proprietary software. Andrea Polli pointed out that "it is more and more apparent that digital art/media in academia has been hijacked by the software industry." To be competitive, a program must be able to afford expensive software; the inability to stay up to date inhibits some programs' abilities to keep up to date with professional and aesthetic trends (I know this from the experience of my own graduate program).
Some have turned to FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open-Source software) to help alleviate these problems, but a conscious rejection of mainstream software raises important questions:
- How must we revise software budgets and our own expectations to accommodate the steeper learning curve and narrower expressiveness afforded by open source tools?
- What is the nature of a new media program? Should it focus more on technical tools to help students get industry jobs, or should it center on arts education? Trebor wrote about this for fibreculture.
- In Andrea Polli's words, "in our embrace of open source, can and should we expect students to learn commercial industry tools outside of school if they want industry design jobs or to take unrelated jobs until they are at an art director/non tool-specific professional level?"
- If we do embrace FLOSS more readily, what resources must we devote to documentation?
As Tiffany Holmes mentioned in the thread, Apple offers the double-edged sword of pre-installed, easy-to-use software. The problem is that although software like iMovie or Garageband possess shallower learning curves than Final Cut Pro or Pro Tools, and are thus more easily picked up by new technology users, they can also have the adverse effect of scaring such users away from learning programming or the FLOSS tools that, while free, are more difficult to use.
There's much more, and you should go to the thread to read it all.
How Social is Social Software?
Hello. My name is Josh Levy and I'm a new blogger at iDC. Like the other writers here, I'm interested in "social software" -- a phrase that writers and technophiles casually use to describe a host of different web applications. My work at Hunter College, where I'm in the Integrated Media Arts MFA program, centers on using technology to facilitate community-building and social awareness. "Social software" can potentially play a role in this and my work is an investigation into how this might happen; however, it's hard to read about technologies like blogs, wikis, and social bookmarking and tagging services without getting stuck in the business-oriented hype surrounding them. I'm wondering if, because of their emphasis on social contexts and reliance on community input, these technologies can be put to use to help build communities, much in the way that community newspapers have functioned for the last 150 years.
A common criticism (one that I share) of personal networking software like Friendster, MySpace, or Facebook is that it contributes to "iPod culture," a culture that's becoming more and more atomized and insular and encourages consumers to tailor everything in their world to their own tastes, dispensing with the unpredictable world outside their earbuds. Although they're "socially" oriented, these sites are often geared towards helping individuals to congratulate themselves for their collections of friends, hobbies, and interests. They don't always facilitate social relationships outside of pre-existing ones.
I think there's a way to harness the networking strength of those sites and add the strengths of blogs, wikis, VoiP, tagging, etc., to make them help people build communities based on mutual interest and need, both within and without academia. While the business world debates the staying power of the Web 2.0, the non-profit world and academia can benefit from the truly remarkable potential these technologies represent.
Learning on the go
The iDC list has had some great conversations (still going on at the moment!) about conferences and such recently, discussing alternative formats the problematics of bringing people together to share ideas, develop tactics and strategies, network and learn from each other in general. In a lot of ways, it seems that the whole point of conferences is to extend the traditional space of the classroom and other learning environments into more professional and specialized spaces. Of course, i'm speaking in a completely idealistic and non-cynical manner here.
But i think a lot of innovations that can be applied to educational settings can also be considered in relation to professional conferences if we want to take them as seriously and assume that they are indeed more than lines on a resume.
i was considering this while following a new course here at UIUC being taught by my colleague Kevin Hamilton, library science (& more) researcher Piotr Adamczyk and visiting artists Laurie Long and M.Simon Levin based on a larger series of events. The class, titled Mobile Mapping for Everyday Spaces, involves students from various disciplines (including art, dance, computer science and landscape architecture) in the study and creation of cartographic technologies based on walking. Without going too much into it, one great thing that i gather is going on from my limited involvement in the course is the focused back-and-forth between discursive exploration and shared problem solving. In other words, they read/view and discuss others' works related to a topic and then work on specific problems in collaborative groups, which is then fed back into discussion.
While this is extremely simple (my description, not the class), i wonder if conferences and the like could benefit from this kind of discursive workshop model. How can conference sessions actually organize response mechanisms (i.e. focused on the feedback) rather than the delivery of singular "vanguard" positions?
"Grow Your Research"
Yesterday, I attended most of a one-day conference hosted by the Center for Computing in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS) here at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. CHASS adds itself to a growing list of technology-based interdisciplinary initiatives on the UIUC campus, such as the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Beckman Institute, and the Seedbed Initiative for Transdomain Creativity to name a few.
The conference featured speakers from history, english and geography discussing various projects that made use of digital visualizations, computational processing and networked archives. Historians discussed the potential (actual and speculative) of "Dynamic Open-Ended Information Systems" as new way to publish accessible scholarship (William Thomas of U of Nebraska) and the need for historians to become aesthetes that consider the formal conventions of media as well as the overt content (in a situation Jon Bonnett of Canada's Brock University calls the "Topographic Revolution"). We looked at the development of an interactive archive of William Blake's work (Morris Eaves of the U of Rochester) and the potential of GIS and spatial analysis for social science (ICU Spatial Analysis Lab's Luc Anselin).
While I'm very interested in the contributions of spatial analysis, it was the narratives provided by the historians that caught my attention most. The desire for "impact" was especially felt, whether in the form of quantity (the number of website "hits") or quality (talk of "augmented reality" as a pedagogical tool). Discussions about the potential of digital tools in the classroom recalled Gregory Ulmer's concept of heuretics and learning through invention. But something was different, in a pretty major way. Ulmer's project seems to embody an aesthetic of montage while the work discussed here moved towards the seamless and an aesthetic of virtual realism/illusionism. Lev Manovich has discussed the political implications of this difference, between montage and continuity. While the work presented by the historians attempts to (and I would say successfully) differentiate representation from reality for students, it only does so in the process of production. The final product, what is supposed to "educate" the rest of us, leaves the authority of the media in tact. A user of an augmented reality device isn't likely to question the graphic overlays that might be explaining a site's history if those overlays don't disrupt both experiential and virtual realities. I'm reminded of the Harold Pinter speech that's been in the press and discussed reality and truth in art and civic life... it may be interesting aesthetically and theoretically to explore the illusionism of digital visualizations, but as a citizen, it seems necessary to problematize illusion and engage the political economy of the media apparatus.
Of course, there is the political economy of these initiatives themselves to consider, which I certainly don't have a handle on...
Academy. Teaching Art, Learning Art
01/22 - 04/03/2005
"Academy" is an international series of exhibitions and projects which will take place during the next two years. The series is initiated by Siemens Arts Program in cooperation with Kunstverein in Hamburg, Goldsmiths College in London, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst in Antwerp, and Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven.
The series begins with "Academy. Teaching Art, Learning Art" at Kunstverein in Hamburg. This event reflects on the situation of students and instructors at art academies and asks: Which role ascriptions occur on either side? Can art be taught and learned at all? Which values do progressive thought and tradition, provincialism and internationality have in the idea and essence of the academy? "Academy. Teaching Art, Learning Art" consists of an exhibition with (in part) process-oriented artistic works and a lecture series. In this sense, the project relates directly to the original meaning of the academy as a forum for sharing ideas and as a venue for free, informal gatherings. This approach is also reflected in an information area within the exhibition, where documentary material is available about various international academies and conservatories of art. Works by the invited artists focus on the theme of the institutionalization of art education and art communication.
In "Ghost Professor Jennifer" (2004), Uli Aigner (*1965 in Scheibbs/ Lower Austria, lives in Munich) established visiting hours in the city hall for students from Munich’s Academy of Visual Arts. Together with students and graduates from the Academy in Munich, she founded the "Ghost Academy" (2004/2005) with its twelve fictive teaching chairs. "Ghost Academy" will now be presented in Hamburg for the first time. Afterwards it will be documented on film and can be experienced in the form of didactic events.
For many years, Pawel Althamer (*1967 in Warsaw, lives in Warsaw) has organized a weekly workshop with mentally handicapped people, the so-called Nowolipie Group. For Kunstverein, he and the members of this group will create sculptural portraits of gallery owners and other art communicators. A video by his artist colleague Artur Zmijewski (*1966 in Warsaw, lives in Warsaw) documents the process through which Althamer conjoins the artistic context and everyday life.
In their group installation "Thirst for Knowledge" (2003), Mark Dion (*1961 in New Bedford/MA in 1961, lives in Beach Lake/PA) and Jackie McAllister (*1962 in Dundee, lives in New York) use articles of clothing and stacks of books to create typological portraits of art students and their intellectual interests.
Jeanne Faust (*1986 in Wiesbaden, lives in Hamburg) made a film in which a woman describes a picture, then repeats this description with uncertainty. Her interlocutor’s response is not shown, so the film’s spectators lack decisive information they need to understand the situation. The attempt to comprehend something through an extremely precise description can fail, but it can also reveal many possibilities.
Jef Geys (*1934 in Leopoldsburg, lives in Balen) presents a series of sketches entitled "ABC École de Paris" (1986) which formulates the academic vocabulary of an artist who can acquire motifs and skills through continual practice. In addition, Geys invited the artist Inge Godelaine to the Academy of fine Arts in Hamburg for two weeks (February 7-18, 2005), where she’ll teach "Sketching from Nude Models" to students and other interested individuals.
The series of sketches entitled "Akademie für Adler" ("Academy for Eagles") (1989) by Jörg Immendorff (*1945 in Bleckede, lives in Düsseldorf) reflects this painter’s ambivalent relationship to the art academy as an institution with its hierarchical, competitive and exclusive mechanisms. The point in time when these pictures were created plays a role, as does the personal involvement of the painter because of his role as an instructor at various academies.
To earn his diploma, Christian Jankowski (*1968 in Göttingen, lives in Berlin) developed a film installation called "Diplomarbeit" ("Diploma Work") (1992/1998), in which he documented the first and last days of his own artistic education. The theme considered in this self-referential artwork is further explored in "Teaching Commission" (2000), which consists of banners daubed with statements that natural scientists made about their own teaching commissions, and "Seminar – Selbstpositionierungen im Kunstfeld" ("Seminar – Self-positioning in the Art Field") (2002), in which students exchange their roles with dream partners from the art world.
In "Basisarbeit" ("Grassroots Work") (1998), Olaf Metzel (*1952 in Berlin, lives in Munich) focuses on the theme of his former double function as artist and rector at the Academy of fine Arts Munich. He describes this twofold role as a contextual and conceptual situation. His installation, which relates to the art academy as an institution, consists of a conference table, voting booths, a photo with the chain of office, a paperweight shaped like the Academy building, and a chaotic heap of files. An accompanying eponymous book contains a collection of articles about the situation in which these educational institutions find themselves.
Eran Schaerf (*1962 in Tel Aviv, lives in Berlin) and students from the Academy of fine Arts in Hamburg plan a project entitled "Modulator" which will represent and investigate the structures of a conservatory’s seminar as a transmitter-receiver model. They developed a "software" for this purpose so that they could change the traditional roles of this communicative model. This led to the creation of a kind of montage machine for which the artists produce contributions and allude to one another, either under their own names or under the name "Modulator."
Arturas Raila (*1962 in Vilnius, lives in Vilnius) has taught for more than a decade at the Conservatory of Art in Vilnius. This institution is also the showplace of his video: entitled "The Girl is Innocent" (1999), the video depicts a stroll through the graduating classes of the year 1998. The video’s theme is the discrepancy between post-communist experiences and the resultant modes of work of several students on the one hand, and the traditional notion of artistic genius which continues to provide an orientation for some of Raila’s professor colleagues on the other hand.
For the duration of the exhibition, Apolonija Šušteršic (*1965 in Ljubljana, lives in Am-sterdam and Ljubljana) will install a "Research Department. Meeting Room" which investigates the complementary interconnections between the Academy of fine Arts in Hamburg, Kunstverein in Hamburg, and the city of Hamburg. As a venue which is simultaneously analytical and physical, the "Research Department" also promotes encounter and communication in order to evaluate and constructively encourage networking between these three venues. (supported by: Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam / Generalkonsu-lat der Niederlande in Hamburg)
Friday, January 21, 2005, 11 a.m.
Friday, January 21, 2005, 7 p.m.
Kunstverein in Hamburg and Siemens Arts Program
Uli Aigner, Pawel Althamer & ArturZmijewski & Nowolipie Group, Mark Dion & Jackie McAllister, Jeanne Faust, Jef Geys, Jörg Immendorff, Christian Jankowski, Olaf Metzel, Modulator (Mareike Bernein, Nadine Droste, Gunnar Fleischer, Axel Gaertner, Oliver Gemballa, Heiko Karn, Jeong Hyun Kim, Alexander Mayer, Katrin Mayer, Nicole Messenlehner, Karolin Meunier, Stefan Moos, Miriam Pietrusky, Christoph Rothmeier, Eran Schaerf, Eske Schlüters, Jochen Schmith, Robert Schnackenburg, Mirjam Thomann, Sabin Tünschel, Gunnar Voss, Karsten Wiesel, Benjamin Yavuzsoy, Joachim Zahn and Jenni Zimmer), Arturas Raila, and Apolonija Šušteršic
Yilmaz Dziewior (Kunstverein in Hamburg)
Angelika Nollert (Siemens Arts Program)
A catalogue will be published upon conclusion of the series. Its editors will be Bart De Baere, Yilmaz Dziewior, Charles Esche, Angelika Nollert, and Irit Rogoff.
- January 27, 2005, 7 p.m: .Irit Rogoff: "Academy as Potentiality"
- February 3, 2005, 5 p.m.: Heiko Karn, Katrin Mayer, and Eran Schaerf discuss "Format Attempt – Publication as Seminar"
- February 17, 2005, 7 p.m.: Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, Ali Subotnick: "4th Berlin Biennale 2006"
- February 24, 2005, 7 p.m.: Stephan Dillemuth: "The Academy and the Corporate Public"
- March 3, 2005, 7 p.m.: Abel Auer, André Butzer, Birgit Megerle, Roberto Ohrt: "Academy Isotrope, the Echo"
- March 10, 2005, 7 p.m.: Clementine Deliss: "Future Academy"
- March 17, 2005, 7 p.m.: Martin Köttering: "Ivory Towers / Light-houses: On the Social Position of Art Conservatories"
- March 31, 2005, 7 p.m.: Charles Esche: "The Protoacademy"
Press Release December 2004
Interview Lisa Gye
On Situated Media Criticism, Personalized Education and
the Organized Network Model
Interview Lisa Gye (adjusted by Trebor Scholz)
As part of WebCamTalk1.0
Trebor Scholz: What do you think could be the best entry point for students into new media art?
Lisa Gye: Teaching here in Melbourne (Australia) I am engaged in electronic writing, which is a good way to open up students to new media practices. My interest in this field goes back to Gregory L. Ulmer. His books "Teletheory: Grammatology in the Age of Video" and "Heuretics: The Logic of Invention" have strongly influenced my pedagogical practices. His work made me realize that electronic writing has the potential to challenge our own subjectivity and thus change the way we create knowledge. For the past 12 years I taught new media and my goal has always been to think about the way writing shapes our consciousness. A tool is just a tool. What counts are larger issues of human subjectivity. I do not think that we fathom the full impact that digital literacy will have on the creation and dissemination of knowledge. Ulmer calls this digital literacy-- "electracy."
I mostly used outside university resources for teaching and to do my own work. I avoided programs like the corporatized Blackboard system with its virtual drop boxes. These systems did not even begin to accommodate the projects that I have worked on with my students. Security concerns are among the reasons of the university to limit full and unregulated access to their network, which in turn makes it hard for faculty and students to do inventive work. But we routed around these problems. Systems like Blackboard are dangerous because they reinforce the idea of students coming to the university in order to consume an education. It gives them the idea that they can enter the discursive space of the lecture by downloading the transcript of a presentation.
In Australia there is a strong trend towards the personalization of education. This very noticeable movement creates the sense in students that they pay to get whatever it is they think they need to know. This contradicts the very idea of education. Material about 15th century rhetoric may not have immediate and obvious relevance to students' day to day lives but it can teach them about the current moment. Students often reject this kind of historical material in advance of understanding it. This increasingly prevalent attitude is, I think, caused in part by corporate educational models. This question of 'personal relevance' is so tied to the consumerist ethic that it prevents students' minds from being open to a wide range of ideas and practices.
Of course, all of this is tied to the promotion of certain ideas about freedom and choice that have currency in both Australia and elsewhere. Education is now supposed to be a smorgasbord of choice and students should be free to choose to study whatever they like. But freedom and choice are complex ideas that are rarely contested and often used as slogans. I would really love to see a public discussion of what exactly freedom and choice mean in the context of education.
TS: Today's cooperative technologies allow for enormous social filtering and connect people who share a very particular interest. Pro-anorexia and cutting blogs, for example, are known phenomena.
The reason for this distributed personalization of interest can be found in information overload. Input from anything outside of the private world of the immediate social group of the student is excluded. Nothing that disturbs their vision, their sense of self is let in, thus limiting the student's ability to learn. This problem can also be linked to a drastic increase of work load since the 1960s. This widely perceived lack of openness may be a response to this 'dataobesity' and rather call for anti-social software. We could also relate the decreasing student interest in public lectures. From Stanford University to Sarah Lawrence College, lectures by nationally acclaimed authors or artists draw no more than a handful of students. In response, such public lectures have increasingly been integrated into classes to secure an audience. Maybe we should re-think the lecture model altogether.
LG: There is a desperate need for students to reconnect to campus life. Coming to university is not just about consuming courses so that you can graduate into a good job. The development of social networks in universities is, I think, being undermined by the corporatization of university life. Our government's current attempts to make student unionism voluntary will just compound this problem. Student unions provide, at the moment, the only social outlet for students on campus. Making them voluntary assures their demise. In response to this we decided to create a virtual network between all of our Media and Communications students. We hope that students will connect online and then meet in person. The site for this network is called SwinMC and was developed by a group of postgraduate media students in the form of a tiki wiki.
Every undergraduate student that starts in Media and Communications gets access to this tool but the results in terms of participation are sparse. We need to look at ways in which we can involve students. We say-- here is this space- do whatever you want with it. It is a hard sell. One idea is to make the tool part of the curriculum but that creates an assessment-based relationship of students to the tool. So, how do you socialize an online tool? How do you draw people into a social space? At the moment, these are problems that we are working on. I know we are not alone in this- there are many fantastic initiatives that provide access to social computing technologies for students in Australia and around the world. This question of student participation, and the use of available resources is an agenda for new media educators worldwide.
TS: This question of people's motivation to contribute to the public came up often over the past few years. What triggers participation? What does the browsing public really want?
LG: I prefer mailing lists to weblogs as I think that mailing lists force you to interact with people with whom you do not want to interact. This, for me, is the definition of social. To be social means to negotiate social spaces. This is so important for our students. There is no doubt that social software can facilitate and extend the kinds of spaces that students inhabit but I still do not feel that they can substitute for actual face to face interaction.
TS: In response to many of these issues a group of educators across Australia founded Fibreculture. What is its goal and how does it differ from other initiatives?
LG: Fibreculture was founded by Geert Lovink and David Teh in 2001. While there were many other online resources for discussions of network theory, like nettime, there was no forum that was specific to the Australian cultural context. What does it mean to live in a country of 22 million people that is a 24 hour flight away from the major centers in Europe and North America? Most of the texts that we read come from the U.S. and from Europe. There are strong, valuable Australian voices and Fibreculture provides a forum, an outlet, for those voices. Australia has a unique relationship to the rest of the developed world. We have a British colonial heritage, but are also still colonized by American culture. We need theory that reflects that specificity.
Fibreculture satisfies the need we have for situated conversations about the way the media impacts us here. We experience a certain tyranny of distance that is also reflected in the way knowledge is constructed. Cooperative technologies/ social software, for example, is taken up in Australia at a much faster pace than anywhere else in the world. These technologies can bridge the geographic distance. Fibreculture has been successful-- there are currently over 900 subscribers to its mailing list. We have published several newspapers and a FibreCulture Reader-- all peer-reviewed by the mailing list. Also out of the mailing list grew a new media education resource site.
In addition, we started Fibreculture Journal, which is an open access, peer-reviewed, scholarly journal dealing with issues in media culture. The 4th issue is coming up and another 5 are planned for this year. There was a sense that there were fewer and fewer places for academics to publish work and yet so much of our job relies on being public.
We organized four conferences on the East Coast of Australia so far. The success of these events reinforces my belief in the value of face-to-face conversations.
TS: There is much debate about the emergence of cultural networks as frameworks for action. But what do you specifically mean when you describe Fibreculture as an organized network?
LG: Last year at a conference we work on the difficult definition of Fibreculture as an organized network. Fibreculture has facilitators who organize conferences, bring in list members to develop initiatives, publish other media and, facilitate discussion on the list. But non-facilitators are also vital to Fibreculture-- they are in fact what makes Fibreculture.
The Fibreculture Journal is run by Andrew Murphie who is not a facilitator. But he tends to run decisions by the facilitators. The facilitators are often those who volunteer for tasks that need to get done.
People often assume networks to be by default democratic. I do not agree. I would compare the functioning of an organized network to that of criminal networks. Criminal networks are not just set up for the sake of its existence but in order to get something done. In order for organized networks to be functional there needs to be a hierarchy, they are an inevitable function of networks. This does not sit well with a lot of popular rhetoric.
Fibreculture also strives to remain independent. It does not want to be affiliated with any university or the government. But in order to put together a conference we need money and a legal entity to receive these funds. Fibreculture so far runs more like a criminal entity-- we use cash. Consequently, we open ourselves up to allegations of corruption and of being undemocratic. The question of how organized networks intersect with other networks and institutions needs to be negotiated. I hope that Fibreculture does not need to get institutionalized merely for financial or administrative reasons because I think this would undermine its independence. Most Fibreculture members are already attached to institutions. There is no need for them to belong to yet another institution. What are possibilities of action outside of organizational structures? The Australian government has recently established a fund for research networks. Ten years ago that would have been unthinkable. In the past, a handful of established Australian scholars would have received the funding over and over. Now, the government, starts to offer some funding for collaborative networked research efforts. But Fibreculture explores structures outside the institutional to framework because this is the way we will remain effective. The future will show how this will play out.
Resources on organized networks:
Rossiter, Ned. Organised Networks Institutionalise to give Mobile Information a Strategic Potential, Available at http://www.noemalab.org/sections/ideas/ideas_articles/pdf/rossiter_networks.
Lovink, Geert and Schneider, Florian, 'A Virtual World is Possible:
From Tactical Media to Digital Multitudes', posting to nettime mailing list, 1 November, 2002. http://www.nettime.org
Criminal networks by Vincent Lemieux, Royal Canadian Mounted Police report,
Results of an analysis of 40 organized criminal groups, United Nations Global Programme Against Transnational Organized Crime, report of pilot survey results, 2002,
Lisa Gye teaches new media theory and production at Swinburne University of Technology (Victoria, Australia).
Interview with Wolfgang Münch
New Media Education in Singapore
Interview with Wolfgang Münch (adjusted by Trebor Scholz)
As part of WebCamTalk1.0
Trebor Scholz: Singapore has a considerable focus on vocational training that is in contrast to notions of solid, balanced education. New media education programs that were presented at the Multimedia Art Asia Pacific Conference 2004 followed the objectives of trade schools focusing for the most part on an industrial skill set. Do you feel that these skill sets will be of lasting help to students?
Wolfgang Münch: Singapore does not focus much on the arts per se but makes big steps towards the development of media industries. Singapore is a very small island of four and a half million people. Survival means to bring in money while faced with the absence of native resources. Singapore develops and sells its specific expertise to the rest of the world. The bright digital vision of Singapore's leaders is outlined in a number of initiatives, one of them is called "Media 21: Transforming Singapore into a Media City." Having a strong industrial emphasis at new media conferences in this country is understandable if you read this document. For people from other cultural backgrounds this commercial impetus may seem a bit strange.
TS: The criticism of merely teaching vocational skills is in line with business interests. Just-in-time knowledge such as specific animation skills will not equip the young media artist with a variety of skills that is divers enough to accommodate a dynamic market. What if students do not get their first job at Lucas Film' new facility in Singapore? What if the orientation of the market place changes? How do you train students to be able to pick up ever evolving skill sets? A combination of vocational skills, and knowledge in the humanities would position Singaporean students better. They would not be low-end tech workers in an animation factory.
WM: This is precisely the challenge. Who introduces students to conceptual thinking? Who trains people in creativity? Can creativity be taught at all? In our courses at LASALLE-SIA we emphasize both critical thinking and technological skills. That makes our media art programs quite unique in Singapore. Many students have no real sense of what critical thinking means. In Asia the more common model is that students are listening, and then repeat back to the teacher. Traditionally, education was much less about ideas expressed by an individual. We need to help the students to unlearn, to try and open up to collaboration, for example. All these efforts aim at making students more competitive. The main educational challenge in Singapore is to show students that there can be value in a project without immediate commercial outcome, which is not always easy. But discussions about this can be quite charming, and you can convince people. In general, students are very open to new ideas and with a bit of initial input, and a fair amount of patience-- they can go far.
U.S. American academia moves towards the corporate model that favors science over the humanities but here things are somehow opening up for the better. The country is open to new media art practices. It is increasingly easier to get funding from the state, also for a wide range of art projects. Singaporeans experience a new kind of freedom. A good example for this new approach was a recent conference at which Jeffrey Shaw, among others from the University of New South Wales, presented his research program. Collaborations between programs such as iCinema, and Singaporean education and research institutes are planned and encouraged by the local authorities such as the economic development board (EDB).
TS: I wonder if this all so sunny, embracing moment allows for the introduction of Free/ Open Source Software. Are there plans to introduce Linux and Open Source software on a similar scale that we currently witness in Brazil, and partially in Germany and France?
WM: From my experience, Linux does not really play a significant role in Singapore yet. And I am not sure this will change any time soon. Singapore likes big companies, big brand names from overseas like Microsoft, or Apple Macintosh. Singaporeans look over the ocean and think: these are good, powerful corporations. But I think that research communities will make use of Open Source software in the future.
TS: What should we know about new media art practices in Singapore? Is video today's new media of choice in Singapore simply because it is more readily available than, for example, net-worked computers?
WM: Singapore is a very good place for video and animation. Cameras are cheap and there is an emerging TV and Film industry here. Many Singaporeans come back after having made a name for themselves in the United States or Europe. The government welcomes them wholeheartedly as they bring back much know-how. But what we call 'new media' here is not exactly what you may think of as new media art in the United States or Europe. There is a very strong influence of Japanese manga animation, for example. Manga animation has a big market and Singapore wants to be part of that. Many short films are being produced here and new film schools flourish. We are starting our Film School this year at LASALLE-SIA, too. Many film businesses are currently set up, including Lucas Studios. Also iCinema may collaborate with local institutions. In general, new media in Singapore is still mainly about film and animation.
TS: The web-based work of the media art collective Tsunamii has some visibility in Europe and the United States.
WM: Yes, they are Singaporeans. And since its a small country, you can meet them quite easily. There are only few independent places where artists meet in Singapore. Such places include SubStation, which also plays an educational role. But artists like Tsunamii are somewhat less prominent at home than they are abroad.
TS: Do you think that a lack of access to the internet is a reason for this? Are cellphones the more widely used means of communication?
WM: Access to the Internet is widely available in Singapore. There is a big cable going in and out of Singapore. Prices for broadband access are quite low but fairly large parts of the population do not want to spend the extra money and may indeed not have Internet access at home. The setup of society is quite different to Europe or the U.S.. Chinese families, for instance, have very strong ties. Students mostly live with their parents until they get married, usually sometimes between the ages of 20 and 25. And state-supported flats do not necessarily have broadband connection. That may be one of the reasons why there is a lot of cellphone use. But people in Asia are crazy about mobile phones anyway. Contacting students by email, for example, is usually not entirely successful. You have to call them or text them. Then they will immediately respond. Cellphones are definitely a great area of artistic inquiry but I am not aware of art projects using cellphones here in Singapore. At least I can't think of any right now.
TS: You also taught in Hong Kong. What is the state of new media education there?
WM: I taught a 'master class' in creative media at The Art School / Hong Kong Art Center. In general, the situation in Hong Kong was a bit bleak in terms of media art. Even the film business has some problems now. There are many highly skilled people in this extremely commerce-centered metropolis but very few of them have the intention to make media art. But there are art initiatives and festivals, such as videotage/microwave and the Asian Art Archive. But many artists seek their successes abroad. I have been at an international panel discussion about the creative industries, new media and art in Hong Kong. Right in the end, one person in the audience said there is no point in debating creative industries as there is no creativity in Hong Kong. Nobody said anything against it and the event was over. I was stunned. But this describes the situation somehow and not too much seems to change.
The future for media art seems to happen rather in Singapore than in Hong Kong. For mainland China the situation is completely different. If 1.3 billion people decide to make economical changes- that will have a major impact. They have cities with more than 5 million people in each of them and we have not even heard of their names. These cities, mostly unknown to people outside of China, have large universities. There are over 200 art colleges in the bigger cities in mainland China alone. The emphasis is on the fine arts and music, not so much on new media. Unfortunately, China is not paying teachers very well, so there is little financial incentive for a teacher from the U.S. to work in China. And the Chinese government still does not invest much in this kind of art education. But I think that this will change in the near future. They have to get some people from the outside into the country. This will start most likely in the context of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008.
In Thailand there are attempts to bring media art into public awareness with the Chiangmai Media Festival and the Thailand New Media Arts Festival in Bangkok. So far such festivals are much less polished than their European sister programs like Ars Electronica or Transmediale because they are underfunded and quite new. Thailand starts to understand that there are possible markets following cultural events like that. With the Switch Media Festival, Chiangmai tries to become the IT capital of the North. Indonesia has a growing and interesting arts scene specifically in video. One thing is missing throughout Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and all these countries that are situated between India on the one side and China on the other. There is a lack of a transnational network of people who work together on new media initiatives. There are all these small yet very different countries and unfortunately there is very little unity. But there are attempts to network media artists of the Asian-Pacific region, in an initiative with UNESCO and SARAI in Delhi. In the Western world such new media network was an amazing advantage 15 years ago.
TS: My last question relates to situated media criticism. Much of new media theory is written and published in the United States or Europe. While these materials are unquestionably important, their use in the context of Asia has a connotation of cultural colonialism. Texts may not speak to the local situation. Are there Chinese or Singaporean media critics?
WM: Not all Singaporeans read Chinese. And Chinese books have a sufficient readership in their own country. There is no desperate economic need for them to be translated. What you pointed out about Western text is quite crucial. For the most part Western media critics speak to a Western situation. But in Asia, books from the outside are perceived as somewhat better, and it is very hard to change that perception. A new mind set that matches their own cultural background needs to be developed here. For example, a group of students wanted to address structures of fascism in their project, and they locate their discourse immediately in Germany in the 1930s. I ask them why they are using something about which they know hardly anything. Do not they have their own local massacres to work about? If you set out to work about such topics, why do not you look at dictatorial structures in Asia?
To summarize: Singapore is a very pragmatic country. People here locate a problem and then they are trying to solve it. Many students are of that same spirit. And this peculiar pragmatic mixture of business, technology and art could be something that Singapore can contribute to the international new media scene. I am curious if this will be perceived as a new approach to new media. We may have this old fashioned approach to the artist as a lonely maniac who dies at the age of 28 because of an excessive life style: one person against the rest of the world. Singaporeans come from a different point. They have new technologies at their avail and they will be open to use it for artistic ends. Maybe there is a new idea coming out of that, which might be different from what we see in Europe or the United States. Lets see whether it is possible to combine artistic with commercial agendas.
Wolfgang Münch studied fine arts in a pre-computer era, worked at ZKM, was teaching interactive media in Stuttgart, Hong Kong and Singapore, has been artist in residence at ZKM, AEC and IAMAS, and is currently dean of media arts at LASALLE-SIA in Singapore.