Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

09 NOVEMBER, 2009

Introducing the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts

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What liquor stores have to do with the advancement of the digital arts.

Last week, we saw artist-explorer Jonathan Harris’ profound reflection on the current state of the digital world. But as digital culture grows on, we need more explicit, concentrated efforts to make sense of it all and its ever-evolving relationship with the arts. Enter GAFFTA, the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts — a visionary Bay Area nonprofit dedicated to building social consciousness through digital culture, based on the principles of openness, collaboration, and resource sharing. (Principles validated all the more strongly as Firefox, the quintessential epitome of this movement, turns 5 today.)

GAFFTA‘s programs explore the creative intersection of art, design, sound, and technology — a celebration of the interdisciplinary cross-pollination of ideas we’re so fond of around here.

The world is experiencing an explosion of technological development that presents us with inspiring opportunities and challenges. While the ability to rapidly produce and consume information has fueled quantum leaps in innovation, its abundance can also disrupt our focus and fragment our consciousness. By funding and curating projects that offer insightful perspective on the information of our age, using the technologies of our time, GAFFTA provides a means to decode and humanize the evolving global database.

GAFFTA was born out of the realization that, beyond a limited number of mainstream museums, there is no cohesive public space for exhibiting and fostering dialogue around experimental digital art. Eventually, Gray Area took over 7 storefronts in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, previously used as a porn arcade, liquor store and bar, and transformed them into a Media Arts Center populated by galleries, studios and office spaces.

It’s no coincidence that the ever-amazing Aaron Koblin is on the GAFFTA team, populated by equally incredible creative visionaries and artist-technologists.

GAFFTA‘s inaugural exhibition, OPEN, opened last month and runs through November 18, highlighting work from several digital art pioneers spanning a multitude of formats and techniques. And while such events and workshops are no doubt a fantastic leap forward for digital art, we’d love to see GAFFTA’s mission extended to the broader digital community in a portal or social network that transcends geography and allows for the wider cross-pollination of ideas.

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01 OCTOBER, 2009

30 Years of Innovation: Happy Birthday, ITP

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Mud, paparazzi, and what rodents have to do with the bleeding edge of interactive technology.

A self-decapitating squirrel-as-clock, voice-activated tug-of-war games, and anti-paparazzi fashion aren’t typical student thesis projects, but then the program for which they were created is no typical program. NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) celebrates its 30th anniversary from October 1st through 3rd this year, and belying its ’70s-era name, the ITP is the go-to place for the newest in new media.

A cross between experimental arts studio and R&D technolab, the ITP is a two-year degree program and self-described “center for the recently possible.” The current course catalog reads like some kind of avant-hacker’s dream: Cabinets of Wonder, Design for UNICEF (taught by faculty member Clay Shirky), and Sousveillance Culture are among the many electives available.

ITP’s bi-annual thesis shows have become must-see events for talent recruitment and pure geekdom alike. The artists, designers, engineers, theorists, and technologists that make up the program’s community of alumni/ae, faculty, and students include a current MacArthur Fellow, numerous TED presenters, and Ze Frank — in short, a who’s who of high-minded cool.

With equal emphasis on hardware and software, student projects push the boundaries of new technology but with a distinctly user-centered focus. Some, like Plott by Thomas Chan, have immediate real-world application—as applications (of the iPhone variety). Others, like Tom Gerhard’s Mud Tub, take a more theoretical bent. All draw on life as their laboratory, and we love how they augment our experience of interacting with the world.

As it turns 30, the ITP’s mission—to explore creative applications of communications technologies—is more relevant now than ever. The program’s immersive approach to learning excites us not only because it approaches the classroom as playground, but also because it’s a great example of design within social contexts. (And consistent with this collaborative ethos, ITP has set up a wiki so that its current and past students and faculty can assemble a timeline of the program’s history.)

With concentrations in design areas such as assistive technology, mobile computing, and sustainability, the program has not only kept pace with the times but seems poised to lead the way into the brave, new, mediated landscape we live in. To see what makes ITP such a cool place, check out a project portfolio and a few additional videos.

Kirstin Butler holds a Bachelor’s in art & architectural history and a Master’s in public policy from Harvard University. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn as a freelance editor and researcher, where she also spends way too much time on Twitter.

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30 SEPTEMBER, 2009

Responsive Shapes: Minivegas Digital Sculptures

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What Daft Punk have to do with sculpture and the evolution of storytelling.

If you didn’t catch us raving about it on Twitter earlier this week, here’s your chance to catch up on this brilliant piece of work by directing collective Minivegas — a virtual gallery, featuring a visualizer rendering digital sculptures in real time in response to sound and gestures.

The gallery walls are adorned with album artwork of the mp3’s loaded into the visualizer (including the appropriately chosen Daft Punk classic, Technologic), with the music itself driving the shape-shifting mutations of the sculptures. The shapes can also be manipulated with hand-motion using a webcam.

Refreshingly innovative, this work illustrates an exciting intersection of multiple senses and multiple media — a beautiful epitome of the evolution of modern storytelling.

Psst, we’ve launched a fancy weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s articles, and features five more tasty bites of web-wide interestingness. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.