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If (!knowledge) {; }

If this blog was a film, this post would form the confusing info-dump that a time travelling character is shown early on, but only makes sense of later. Foreshadowing, Chekhov’s Gun; the things I wish I had been told or made aware of right at the start of this course.

If you’ve made it this far into the blog then you’re either:

  1. Really picking up what I’m putting down here
  2. A new computational arts-based research and theory student who’s been told, “read this blog, it’s like the crash test dummy of blogs”
  3. Grading me – in which case I hope bitcoin is still worth something because that’s all I’ve got to bribe you with so hit me up, yeah?

Assuming that it’s a) or b) (or, let’s face it, C, because everybody loves a bitcoin except the planet) then this is where I put down a huge brain dump of everything I wish I had known right at the start.

Let’s begin.

First off, most important – CONTEXT. Everything is contextual. No matter how big or small, tangible or intangible. This will come up over and over again, in various different manners. It will be called a lot of different things! “Web of relations.” “Milieu”.  “Entanglement.” These have subtle differences but the overall point is the same.

What this means is that nothing is a “given”. There are no “neutral actors” when discussing computational art, or for that matter any philosophical topic, but let’s stay focused here, c’mon.

CONTEXT matters because as soon as you understand that everything has “situated-ness” then you can analyse the connections between things, pluck at them (this is called an Intervention! Art word klaxon alert) and in doing so find rich pickings for research.

Look around you – look at the tools you’re using to create, to read this blog. Who made the tools? Who made the software? Where did the raw materials come from? Who did the physical labor to put these things together? How did these people influence the things they created, that you are now using? Don’t take anything for granted. Ask questions.

In around week 5 we were shown a film featuring Donna Haraway eating cake and playing with string. If I had have seen this film before taking this course I – well, to be frank I wouldn’t have watched very much of it. It’s a woman eating cake and she’s getting it everywhere, the lighting is crazy, I just wouldn’t give it much attention. Now I watch it again. You watch it too (if you’re in the b) camp). She’s discussing CONTEXT and providing different ways of approaching a topic and identifying the webs of relations, so as to gain an insight into the dynamics in play – in this case using a story from The National Geographic about Primates as an example.

A side note – Haraway’s writing made my brain explode but it’s finally starting to sink in, some 15 weeks later. Just let it wash over you and go with it, the ideas will sink in and then it will make sense. Or, be smarter than me! Either way.

So we’ve talked about Context. Let’s talk about Cartesian Dualism! (Side note, in the RPG that is your life, just saying Cartesian Dualism will give you a +100 Speech Bonus)

Have you seen Ghost in the Shell? It’s basically that. The body and the mind are separate things, the mind (not the brain! That’s just meat. More like the soul, in religious terms) is special and the body is essentially a tool for the mind but not as important. Decartes “I think, therefore I am” is the most famous quote from this perspective.

“But surely the body isn’t just a tool for the mind – what’s the point of a brain in a jar if it can’t get any new data to experience?” I didn’t ask at the time.

Well, that’s what phenomenology is about. And then post-phenomenology. And also, Cartesian Dualism is just one way of looking at experience, there are others. But let’s not worry about those for now. This post is starting to get a bit hefty – let’s do a quick fire round!

It’s OK to make up words. When we started this course, the word “Relationality” kept being used. Even as I type that my spell-checker is freaking out about it. This is done constantly, you will read so many words that look like two concepts had a car crash and .. that’s OK, they did! It’s Intentional. The usage of different parts of words in new configurations is a big part of playing with new ideas and expressing new concepts. Elsewhere on the blog I’ve talked about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and I believe this is another facet of that. Also, our lecturer commented at one point after putting together a new term that “it could be an interesting area of research” that didn’t exist before (“and maybe you could get funding for it.”). Which leads me to..

It’s not “making stuff”, it’s “Practice”. This is really basic, but for me one of the hardest things to say and believe, is that as an artist I’m a Practitioner. If you take photos for your art, it’s Photographic Practice. Use the word practice a lot, it helps you get “situated” in the art world. This might sound basic but as somebody who struggles 24/7 with Imposter Syndrome this has been one of the most helpful lessons I’ve learned through this course.

It’s OK not to know everything about everything (hey, you came here to read big facts, right?). It helps to have a general overview of how things fit together, but there is SO MUCH to learn and read that at some point you just need to focus on what you want to do. As long as you are aware of where your “practice” is “situated” and understand the “context” it works within, then you’re in a pretty good spot! There’s always more to learn – that’s your job as an artist! To chase down that new insight and make it visible.

It’s OK to answer a question with a question, so long as it’s the right question. The first time I wrote a proposal for an art commission (pre this course) a friend of mine (who’d been to art school) asked me “What question are you trying to answer with this work?” And I was flummoxed. My usual vocabulary of creative expression is heavily tied to the commercial world, where we discuss “treatments” – an application of a technique and style to somebody else’s idea. Through this course I’ve learned that as an artist you should consider your Practice as a continuous journey, with the question you’re asking as the navigator. Don’t say: “I just wanted to sculpt some cool heads with depth sensors that detect when you’re close so they can play peekaboo” Do say: “How may we represent consumer capitalism as narcodiversion (not a word) through a playful nostalgic automaton?”

If you made it through that last paragraph without alt-tabbing in silent fury at that insufferable bullshit then I’m glad, because the final point is: be honest in the question you’re asking. It might be hard to tell sometimes between art-speak and art-wank but from my perspective the key is honesty. It still might be hard for others to decipher but hopefully you’ll understand the topic well enough to be able to break it down in layman’s terms.

Final one – just because you are allowed to smash words together like drunks in a destruction derby it doesn’t mean you should. There’s an art to plain speaking, and if an idea can be expressed clearly without needing to remix the vocabulary then that’s the best way to do it.

OK, that’s the info-dump over. Have fun doing this course, past-self!

Oh and if you’re reading this in 2017, sell the bitcoin on December 18, would you? Cheers.