Visualizing the ‘Big Picture’

25 11 2010

I am trying to wrestle with the enormity of work ahead of me and have come up this informational diagram to help me break up this PhD into smaller more manageable parts. For a detailed view of the diagram please link here: Project Diagram 1.0





Tools of the trade. Settling on a citation system.

22 11 2010

As an academic who is still relatively ‘wet behind the ears’, I saw this as great opportunity to really build a good foundation for my research and to start things ‘right’. I have always felt that scholarship in its essence is the contribution of critical thought to a vast and ever-growing canon and as such researchers must deal with volumes and volumes of texts, articles, art works, etc. What has always intrigued me is how one stores and organizes all this information as I don’t buy that just because one has their PhD they have the genius capacity to store all the data to remain ‘informed’… well at least at first.

As a result I have been in search of a citation system that would fit nicely into my research process since 2009. I was looking for something simple, portable and would last the test of time and software updates. In my search I have talked to professors, tutors and postgraduate researchers and discussed their personal methods of managing their information. I have received many useful suggestions but was surprised to find out that most scholars I have spoken too at OCAD, Harvard, Camberwell and Goldsmiths still collect their data the old fashioned way of either writing down/typing each item. The system that I have seen most commonly used involves the organization of text files in folders saved (and religiously backed up/printed out) on one’s hard drive.

Systems of storing these files were either done by theme (problematic when there is cross-over in themes in certain texts), by date (only useful if historical chronology is relevant to one’s analysis) and by writing project (useful if one has plenty of articles/essays/books under their belt of which they could use the attached bibliographies as organized resources according to the title of the project). Some scholars both senior and junior have used good old fashioned paper. Notebooks, file folders, clippings, and photocopies etc. This method seemed to be the most flexible as it could incorporate all the said electronic techniques but it was very far from being portable.

As a technophile I was looking for a digital answer. I like the idea that libraries of texts can be accessed from the palm of my hands anywhere in the world without ever having to worry about losing it, and I wanted to incorporate this in my methodology of data collection from the start of my postgraduate research. I was referred to the Endnote , the reference management software by Thompson Reuters, but was told by many that it wasn’t as portable as I may think. EndNote is a program that can pull complete citations form electronic library searches and add them to your personal online database. This database is then made accessible by Microsoft Word and as a result gives the writer the flexibility of changing citation styles with just a few clicks of the mouse. It allows for the storage of extra notes, multimedia files and tags to help organize the information. It seemed to be the perfect fit only the longevity point that was being made to me was the fact that the personal database one created was only accessible so long as you maintained your annual user fee. I could certainly get this waived so long as I was at Goldsmiths (as my tuition fees include an EndNote package) but the entire database I created over my time at Goldsmiths would be inaccessible once I left Goldsmiths! This was not a feasible option.

Grab from zotero.org

Grab from zotero.org

In keeping with the Web 2.0 ethos of free and open source software (FOSS) I decided to look for a FOSS version of Endnote. What I found was Zotero. Below is an interesting description of the birth of Zotero pulled up from the ever trustworthy (and also publicly collaborative and thus ubiquitous) Wikipedia:

Endnote/Zotero legal dispute

During September 2008, Thomson Reuters, the owners of Endnote, sued the Commonwealth of Virginia for $10 million and requested an injunction against competing reference management software.[4][5] George Mason University‘s Center for History and New Media developed Zotero, a free/open source extension to Mozilla Firefox. Thomson Reuters alleges that the Zotero developers reverse engineered and/or decompiled EndNote, that Zotero can transform proprietary EndNote citation style files (.ens) to the open Citation Style Language format, that they host files converted in this manner, and that they abuse the “EndNote” trademark in describing this feature. Thomson Reuters claims that this is violation of the site license agreement. They also added a restrictive click-thru license to their styles download web site.[5]

George Mason University responded that it would not renew its site license for EndNote and that “anything created by users of Zotero belongs to those users, and that it should be as easy as possible for Zotero users to move to and from the software as they wish, without friction.”[6] The journal Nature editorialized that “the virtues of interoperability and easy data-sharing among researchers are worth restating. Imagine if Microsoft Word or Excel files could be opened and saved only in these proprietary formats, for example. It would be impossible for OpenOffice and other such software to read and save these files using open standards — as they can legally do.” [7]

The case was dismissed on June 4, 2009.[8]

So long story short, I am using a mixture of a Zotero database connected to my Firefox browser in combination with a collection of carefully foldered and sub-foldered pdfs and text files. I am also currently recklessly tempting fate as I have yet to back anything up.






New beginnings…

16 11 2010

I find myself often thinking of an old Finite Mathematics secondary school teacher of mine, Mr. Paolini, that once told me that the secret to battling procrastination was action. Small actions. Small immediate actions. I was lagging in my homework and he told me not to dwell on the weeks of missed work and deadlines but instead to do the assignments that were currently at hand. I did just that and found that it relieved me of my mental block and fear of the seemingly insurmountable pile of unfinished homework that lay ahead of me. After that day, I ended up catching up with the rest of my homework (and then some) in that class. I would finish my Finite Mathematics class with a top mark of 98%.

I bring up this little flashback because as I am facing my second month of postgraduate research at Goldmsiths, I am ashamed to admit that until now, I have not yet put in one blog entry. So in a the spirit of Mr. Paolini and new beginnings, here it is! I will probably do some sneaky back log entries and date them accordingly as I have indeed been writing a few notes in my journal this past month and a half. Some highlights of my research from the time of starting at Goldsmiths include, contributing to the peer-reviewed Computers and the History of Art Conference- ‘Technology and the Death of Art History’ and receiving a Helen Robarts Bursay for my paper (a revision of my MA theisis), going to a talk by postcolonial theorist, artist and founder of Third Text, Rasheed Araeen and coming up with a working research proposal which was facilitated by the completion of an application for a 2011 Doctoral SSHRCC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) Grant.

I’ll be sure to do some back posting when time allows to record all the details. Until then a few mini-tasks face my immediate future research plans:

1. Write a review of the CHArt Conference (a requiste of the bursary award I received) and possibly submit a polished version of my paper for publication review.

2. Create a chapter outline of my thesis.

3. Do a literature review.

4. Think of a relevant practice-based component to my thesis.

5. Prepare all this for an upcoming workshop at the Goldsmiths Digital Studios within the fortnight as I am due to present something to the group!

…. and my son just woke up from his nap… more important things call!





CHArt Paper

11 11 2010

I presented my paper Digital Art in the ‘Third World’ Context of the Philippines today. The paper is a revised version of my MA thesis. Below is the text from the presentation I made:

(notes in blue were added to the speech a few minutes before presentation)

First I’d like to say thank all of you at CHArt for having me today and hopefully I can add a little something to the wonderful discussions and ideas that have been flourishing these last two days.

I was particularly struck by Will Vaughan’s keynote address yesterday. He mentioned that since its inception CHArt was by nature a small and friendly group that welcomed diversity, and I am relieved (and also admittedly a little intimidated) by how intimate this conference actually is.

As some of my fellow presenters have already mentioned. I was enticed by the title of this conference and felt that such a bold implication that Technology killed or was killing Art History was something that needed further elaborating. So here I am.

I am still in the early stages of my research and what I will present today is the workings of a possible chapter for my PhD thesis. That said, I welcome any feedback or comments any of you may have. As long as it’s gentle.

(SHOW PIC)

I want to start with a quote from London-based postcolonial theorist and artist Rasheed Araeen. Araeen founded the art journal Third Text in 1987 to provide much needed Third World perspectives on contemporary art and culture at the time.  Araeen states that “Third Text represents a historical shift away from the centre of the dominant culture to its periphery in order to consider the centre critically.” But almost a decade after his art journal’s inception Araeen seemingly posits a call to arms in his retrospective article “A New Beginning: Beyond Postcolonial Cultural Theory and Identity Politics”.  Araeen laments the ‘tyranny of postcolonial cultural theory’ (his words) and the need for ‘radically new ideas, new strategies and a new discourse not only to produce art, but in order to recognize and legitimize it’. It is from here that I position my presentation: Digital Art in the ‘Third World’ Context of the Philippines.

The emergence of new digital technologies alongside the growing number of global
diaspora communities is reinventing national identity as well as the artistic modes for expressing this identity. Moreover an emergent voice from the impoverished Global South is presenting a unique perspective in digital art that reflects the Web 2.0 ethos of non-proprietary, open source collaboration.

This presentation will highlight the Philippines as one example of how the Global South is actively using digital technology as a vehicle for art production and creative collaboration.  First I will discuss some key postcolonial theories that will provide the theoretical background for my analysis into Philippine art. I will then look at David Medalla and Manuel Ocampo, two Philippine artists that have accomplished themselves within the context of Western art. Medalla in the mid 60s and Ocampo in 80s. Lastly I will discuss the SABAW Media Art Kitchen and the 2009 Asia-Europe New Media Symposium as case studies of international digital collaborations originating in the Philippines that demonstrate a difference from the traditional process of art creation and legitimization that Medalla and Ocampo underwent. Different in that these digital art projects reaffirm that the so-called ‘Third World’, can be viewed as an active participant in the development of a digital art practice and dialogue that address the unique perspectives and challenges inherent to new media in the context of global economic disparity.

Since Edward Said’s seminal text Orientalism (1979), there has been a flourishing of postcolonial scholarship that analyzes the societal ‘other’ and contextualizes narratives that are on the periphery of dominant culture.  Strategies and issues around representation of these marginalized voices have included interpreting marginality as a position of possible empowerment and resistance (bell hooks’ feminist writings are great examples of this) and addressing the issue of ‘essentializing’ people from outside the dominant culture (and here I’ll highlight Gayatri Spivak’s ‘subaltern’). What has emerged is the theory of a ‘Third Space’ which defines the complicated issues of power relationships, space and culture within the framework of migration and movement of people and cultures. This has been discussed by scholars such as Henri Lefebre, Homi Bhabha, Fredric Jameson and Edward Soja.

With regards to diaspora communities, scholars have argued for the need to address hybridity between the culture of origin and the new country (Bhabha 1994; Soja 1996), as well as the formation of national identity (Anderson 1983).

Much of the research into the Philippine diaspora has come from the social sciences and focuses on issues of race in the context of postcolonial empires (Hedman and Sidel 2000; Kramer 2006) and female domestic labourers (Tadiar 2004; Parrenas 2007; Aguilar 2009). Cultural theorist Benito Vergara examines these issues in his empirical study of the Philippine diaspora of California’s Daly City (2008), in which he locates a disconnect between Filipino-Americans and their families in the Philippines due to growing economic differences. Research on Philippine identity in a digital context has explored how Filipinos around the world are representing themselves (Ignacio 2003) and how Philippine women are being represented online (Gonzalez 2003). But is there an emerging Philippine identity within digital art? If so, how does this identity relate to digital culture, Philippine society and the Philippine global diaspora.

Before I delve any further into the topic, it is necessary to clarify that the Philippines, its diaspora, and the artists therein, are just one example of a number of nations from the Global South that are tackling issues of representation and access through digital media. The Philippines poses an interesting case study as it is a non-Western country, a nation of the Global South, that was under colonial rule and occupation for over four hundred years and has since found itself on the economic margins of the global market. The country’s colonial past that began with Spanish Imperialism in the sixteenth century until 1898 has left the nation with a history and culture that is intrinsically entwined with and identified by the very hegemony that silences it.  The development of a national identity in the Philippines, to present to the world of art, has been fraught with complex social and military struggle.  This periphery status has resulted in two notable trends. The first being that the Philippines has one of the largest diaspora communities in the world due to an overseas labour initiative started by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1973 to rejuvenate the national economy. Secondly, it is generally accepted that the term Filipino broadly encompasses not only the temporary diaspora community expected to return to the Philippines but that it also includes individuals who have settled in their host countries (usually the West) and have been away from the Philippines for a generation or more.

Within this climate of loose but far-reaching national ties, artists David Medalla and Manual Ocampo have successfully established a Philippine presence within the traditional Western art establishment. Facing the challenges of being an outsider operating from within, each of these Philippine artists used specific tactics to gain acceptance in the West.

(SHOW PIC)

Medalla, who gained prominence in the British Art scene in the early 1960s, co-founded London’s Signal Gallery in 1964, which became a centre for art/science experimentation and kinetics in the mid 1960s and is responsible for creating international lines of exchange that opened up a previously rigid British art scene (Brett, 1995). Curator, Guy Brett (1995, pp.13-16), reiterates that despite operating outside of the art system, ‘(Medalla) has fostered an internationalism in England which has gone far beyond the narrow, nationalist priorities of the official British art establishment.’

Although Medalla’s influence on art is noteworthy, it is also important to acknowledge the mystique built around his persona as an artist. His grandiose public image of artist as jester and genius has been at once a vehicle for acceptance and exclusion and has been used by other Philippine artists. The perception of Medalla as a virtuoso creative began when he was admitted to Columbia Univeristy at the age of twelve upon the recommendation of Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Mark Van Doren.  By the 1960s Medalla was living between France and England actively initiating and participating in art projects that would be a catalyst for transnational exchange. Living at the periphery of society, impromptu installations like Psychic Self-Defence (1983), revealed other extreme segments in Medalla’s life when he was living as a squatter in London trying to survive the eminent threat of wrecker-squads (Brett, 1995). Although the state of a boy genius at twelve contrasted with homeless vagabond at forty-two seems to be in stark contrast with each other, these roles that Medalla has played in his life reiterate his choice to be an active member in an art establishment that accepts him only under the condition that he maintain his outsider, even spectacle, status.

(SHOW PIC)

In the eighties and nineties artists like Guillermo Gómez-Peña were involved with a number of art collaborations that confronted the art establishment by blatantly addressing the outsider-status of the post-colonial minority. But again the ‘ethnic’ artist relied on shock factor and transgression to get their message heard.

One of these identity artists was Philippine painter Manual Ocampo. In art criticism that addresses Ocampo’s ethnic origins, Ocampo’s unconventional education is also often highlighted (Flores, 2004; Nickisher, 1992). He obtained his painting expertise from Franciscan priests when he attended high school in the Philippines. At the age of thirteen, Ocampo was allegedly taught to create counterfeit replicas of Catholic images, which he crafted so well that the fraudulent paintings were sold as original antiques (Flores, 2004). Like Medalla, Ocampo’s origins fit the pattern of the gifted native that was taken in young, civilized and refined by his colonial masters. He is the ‘savage in a gentleman’s suit’ described by anthropologist Benito Vergara (1995). Living up to his jester status, Ocampo has been known to turn up to the opening of his art shows dressed as a security guard and feigning anonymity (Flores, 2004).  Of course Ocampo could not go unnoticed, as all who attend would see him as Filipino and immediately connect him to his paintings.

Clearly Ocampos’s art functions on transgression as he often uses publicly offensive images of sixteenth century Philippine natives committing visceral acts of violence towards their Spanish colonizers and the Catholicism they evangelized. Duro es el Paso (1992) demonstrates a post-colonial psychic unrest of the unresolved Third World, the Philippines.

The concept of post-colonialism in art has since moved away from transgressive attacks to the system. What has emerged are networks of artists and scholars on the margins using the forum of new digital media and art to generate discourse, communication and most important: collaboration.

Developments in digital art have been intrinsically linked to cutting-edge new media (C. Paul 2000; J. Maeda 2004; L. Manovich 2001, 2008) and any serious ethno-cultural contributions to the field have been overlooked. Exceptions to this include art historians Maria Chatzichristodoulou and Rachel Zerihan who argue that a focus on technology “runs the risk of approaching [new media art] practices as static outcomes rather than (a)live cultural phenomena” (2009, p. 1). The problem that emerges is that if relevant digital art is connected only to advanced technology, there is a myopic association between digital art and wealthy nations despite the reality that parallel and unique trends are occurring in regions of economic disparity.

For instance, under the backdrop of limited resources, the SABAW Media Art Kitchen is one such example that has originated in the Philippines. Founded in 2005, SABAW is a not-for-profit, artist-run digital cultural organization whose aims are to foster ‘a wide network of cultures globally with special emphasis on South East Asia… [and] to ensure the dissemination of information, and implementation of cultural, educational, and technological exchanges’ (quoted from the founder Tengal Drilon, 2008). This is being achieved though projects that experiment with the collaborative aspects of digital media in the context of current social and technological trends in the Global South.

(SHOW PIC)

A recent project initiated by a collaboration between SABAW and Multimedia Centre KIBLA in Slovenia was the 2009 Asia-Europe New Media Symposium (ASEUM). Self- defined as ‘a catalyst for a cultural, educational, and technological exchange on emerging new media art practices in South East Asia with Europe’ (2009). This recent gathering of media art practitioners, researchers, curators and producers from the Philippines, Slovenia, Japan, the Netherlands, Australia, the United States, Canada and Germany represent an active community committed to transnational exchange of creative ideas.  ASEUM facilitated lectures, workshops and discussions among students, artists and professionals who were interested in the overlaps inherent in art, technology and social change through collaboration. Conferences in this forum included topics such as: Open Source Advocacy (Rick Bahague- Philippines), Open Structures (Emma Ota- Japan), European Capital of Culture 2012 (Peter Tomaz Dobrilla- Slovenia/Switzerland), Technology & Cultural Practices (Jerneja Rejnarak-Slovenia/Singapore) and Creative Cultural Exchange (Vanini Belarmino- Philippines/Germany). In addition, art projects, workshops and performances around the themes of digital media and transnational exchanges took place during the week-long Manila event.

(SHOW PIC)

One of the projects at ASEUM, Biomodd [Fig 4], is a installation project that combines the themes of gaming, ecology and collaboration. The symbiotic plant sculpture combines organic life with recycled technology and open source software.  The project was a collaboration involving a community of over forty artists, craftsmen, horticulturalists, engineers, students and game developers. The techno-ecosystem of Biomodd uses recycled computers which the plants then depend upon to grow.  Although similar installations such as Ken Golberg’s Telegarden (1995-2004) have combined plants and computers, Biomodd differs in that the technology used to create the installation was from recycled (relatively, low-tech) computers in the Philippines and created by the local community.

In Inter-play, a project by Tokyo-based curator and researcher Ema Ota and artist Kentaro Chiba, workshops taught Philippine children the basics of frame animation.  Animation sequences initiated by children in Japan were continued by children in the Philippines and vice versa.  The aim of this ongoing project is to foster “cross-cultural communication and understanding, challenging preconceived notions and building relationships which allow a unique insight into the contexts which children in other countries carry out their daily lives.” (Inter-play, 2009) Inter-play has been involved with projects with children from Canada, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the UK and represents positive global collaborations that are mindful of the socio-economic issues involved with access to technology and education in many countries.

The new media symposium led to a meeting with the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCAA) in the Philippines where participants of ASEUM discussed the need for integrating new and intermedia art into national and cultural policy. As a consequence policy making seminars to employees of NCAA are currently being developed.

ASEUM 2009 represents one of many digital collaborations which are not restricted by national or geo-political boundaries. The rise of collaborative and open inter-sharing of information explained through Darcy DiNucci’s now ubiquitous term Web 2.0, finds further functionality in the building of transnational communities that are just below the radar of popular acceptance within the range of Chris Anderson’s ‘Longtail’ if I may borrow the idea we heard of today by Hubertus Kohle. Burgeoning communities around an open source ethos in the context of art and creativity circumvent typical methods of recognition and education found in the analogue art world and allow further involvement from the Global South. Moreover, events like ASEUM 2009 are analogue representations of this digital collaboration and show a growing sense of transnational unity among groups of artists on the periphery.

To conclude, the culture of research and practice of digital media art can serve as a vehicle for transnational representation for the Philippines and other economically marginalized nations or diasporas. The process of acceptance into the establishment for artists like David Medalla and Manuel Ocampo, who in many ways needed to use their outsider ethnic identities to generate attention is perhaps still valid and necessary, however the artistic digital collaborations emerging in the Global South propose an alternative.  These marginalized communities of practitioners and researchers present an optimistic example of the future possibilities of collaboration, access and education inherent in digital art.  If the development of digital technology in art is to truly be considered a ‘new’ media then it must find a novel social function. One such function is the emergent collaboration and creative voice from economically disadvantaged nations who are calling for a new configuration of art practice that includes truly global access.

When we talk of access and impoverished countries and of digital art it is easy to subscribe to the thinking that dissemination of relevant ideas and technologies comes from the ‘First’ or ‘developed’ world and is shared to the  ‘underdeveloped’.

But what I argue is given the current state of the globe in regards to ecology and socio-economic disparity the First World could possibly learn from the Third where people are living under drastically fewer resources and are still creating digital art.

Thank you. Now please slaughter me gently!