Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Days two and three:

I find comparisons useful. Not in a judgmental way, but as a way of tracking progress or direction or evolution. I do compare this time through the gen art material to the last time through (and the last time was compared to the time before that). It is also interesting that, as we saw the previous time through, the two sections could not be more different. We see this not just in the questions they ask, or how they position themselves in the room – section one doesn’t seem to have a problem sitting on the lovely new gym floor close in, a bit like story time – where as section two seems to want to keep a bit of distance and also seems to prefer chairs. At least that is how it seems after three days.

The presentation of the Juxtaposition Projects allows reveals more than the students often see. It is an opened ended project with simple instructions - Place two or more pieces in close proximity in such a way that the pieces offer comment on each other.  It’s also fairly easy to accomplish. That’s why it’s the first project (although in this iteration we didn’t make is one of the main three “Projects” that the students will execute throughout the term). It’s a way to get started and create a ton of things to discuss. Lots of good material – some of which was overthought, some perhaps under-thought – the results don’t really mater either way. Rather than slowly move around the room chatting about each piece Bob and I put a project together ourselves that we used as an example of observation. Start as far removed as possible – what do you see, stay away from collapsing into meaning. Just observe. Its something we saw Lois Hetland do – and I greatly admired her patience. But observation does give way to connections and patterns and finally meaning.

It was with this frame we sent everyone out into the room to look – really look at each of the projects. They were told we would ask them to write on three of them – so circle back for more information. It is always fascinating to me to see the connections between projects – how do they unintentionally qualify or augment or rub up against other projects? In about 20 minutes at the end of class we chatted about what specific ideas students saw in the projects. What techniques, what ideas, what patterns. I’m not sure we got quite as many terms as the last time through – but a good start to creating a list of techniques for the class.

The follow up class we gave each student about 30 seconds to describe their project. It was a good way to review and also start the conversation about intention VS reception. So rather than spend two full class periods on this project it came down to one and about 30 minutes – and developed about the same level of information. Having the student write about three of the projects was useful in that they had already done some thinking about them and processed at least a few. Then we sent the class off into their groups to distill the essence of the White Cube essay due for that day. This worked really well and we will probably lean on this again and again to get the conversation started about readings. Safety in numbers and the hope is at least someone in each group read the essay.

Section 1:


Section 2:




This essay proved to be a key one last time and it allowed for an equally deep and rich conversation this time around. Between the five groups they hit on all the major points we were interested in discussing, but also framed the conversation in ways we didn’t see. For me the key was one of the first comments in the first section about the dynamic interaction between space, the work, and the viewer. This maps really well on the whole Prague School triad and Peircian triad – I suspect we will push on this idea as we go forward. The realization is that you can push on one of these, possibly two, but if you take on all three simultaneously you have completely severed yourself from the past. Not a bad thing, but many of the artists we will discuss build off of and challenge these ideas – therefore need something to challenge. On to DadaDay next – where we stop taking and put these ideas into action.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Third time through

Well, This is the third time Bob and I have offered the Generative Art class – the last time was two years ago. In a workshop with folks from the Olin College of engineering last May we pulled the syllabus apart and reconfigured it into its current iteration. Some of the material and projects we had in place last time are still there, but the basic frame moved from being driving by seven individual projects to being driven by a hybrid model that includes lots of in-class work and only three (well four if you count the first one) individual projects. This came about through the Olin model that created groups for a specific class that worked together the entire term. Our thinking on this is that the groups could be a resource for students that struggle with the prompts for the individual projects.

But, how to create workable groups? Rather than randomize the process – something I have generally done in previous project courses – we decided to have a more specific structure in place. As with most Paths to the Present first days we discussed what students remembered from Self, Society, and Cosmos. this generates a list of terms and ideas useful to begin a discussion of the self. Next, we asked the students to define themselves with one word or a short phrase, write it on a post-it-note, and post it to the board. We then asked them to look over all the terms and sort them into five categories. Terms could complement one another or somehow fit together. It was great watching this process – completely different between the two sections. Section one seemed more of a free-for-all with many voices and hands chiming in all at once. Section two seemed to split into doers and watchers – one group ringed the board, the other group ringed the first group. But the results were basically the same – five groups per section each with a specific descriptive name attached. Section one had: Hope, Control, Seeker, Vulnerable, and Squish. Section two: Seekers, Eccentric, Wholesome, Creative, and Awareness. Bob and I pointed out how this project was generative and within a few minutes the students had designed a system, with specific rules and outcomes.


Then we did the tedious nuts and bolts thing of going over the syllabus. We wanted to make sure that everyone understood what they had signed on for. So we stressed attendance, keeping up with reading and writing assignments, and how the projects will function. While I do miss the chaos and kind of barely keeping ahead of the students the first time we taught the class, it is also nice to have a bit of structure to help support the chaos. Their first assignment is due on Thursday – Juxtaposition – a project I almost always assign first for project classes since it is simple to execute, but can often yield a great deal of discussion. Pairing out conversation with the Lincoln Center list of ideas should help frame this project and way of observing nicely. Can’t wait till Thursday!

Section 1 SSC Terms:


Section 2 SSC Terms:


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Day out:

So, we have basically reached the end of what Bob and I can offer the students. This final week of us in charge ended with Bob presenting on East/West and some specific generative material focused on processing. Today we circled back to the destruction stuff via Metzger’s essay. The conversation today was a way of shaping the pieces a bit more – starting with the arbitrary Life/Art rift that dominates most traditional art forms. The point of the discussion was to acknowledge the shift with Generative Art away from the divide and dissolving or at least pushing on the slash. We then engaged in a conversation about the world today and how that can be reflected in generative and/or destructive process based art. The idea of “art,” of course, merely one of many possible forms of expression to wrestle with the question of society and the world around us. A good discussion in both sections.

We briefly reflected back on the class while cleaning up and I do feel we articulated this process much better this time than the first time we taught the class. As the ground zero for my development of project-based courses it was nice to revisit this model. I think I have learned a great deal about this process in the past 7-8 years. It is a sound one, one that allows students freedom to engage in answering the questions that play to their strengths, but also grounds those strengths in a common set of experiences and vocabulary. We ended up with quite an impressive list of terms and ideas generated over the semester. This then functions as the content of the course. The final project and final exam questions are a way for students to reflect on these ideas while also shaping them in the project. Can’t wait to see what they come up with.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Days – well – whatever – I have totally lost track.

 Coming off of the fragmentation projects it was interesting to see how students tackled this one. Some went straight to things like random number generators to create random pieces, others fragmented images or objects, and still others created their own random system. We saw grids, framing devices, cuts, reliance on technology, reliance on others to make decisions, etc. One of the main questions that arose from this discussion was how small do the pieces need to be in order not to recognize the original object. Images and sounds, of course, seemed to work differently. So – the original images could be obliterated with fairly sizable pieces, but sound would come down to micro-cuts that were still recognizable. Bob’s point about sensing the DNA of the original was a great point.

We also discussed if certain mediums lent themselves to fragmentation better than others. Students that worked with text ended up moving toward individual words or phrases, since the next step was just letters – which are designed to be rearranged all the time. What was really interesting to see is that just about everyone held on to some element of control in executing these pieces – either the control of chat type of chance to use, or of the final product – which completely fits with Cage’s point about not giving his choices up to chance, but choosing how to use it. Part of what we wrestled with was if we saw intention as part of the project – so do elements rearranged randomly reflect any kind of perceivable order. We found that they largely did.

As a follow up to all of this we felt it time to revisit the terms and ideas developed so far. I always find this process interesting in that it seems like we have only developed a few and then they sort of landslide into many. We seemed to have picked up a number with the last few projects. So – we split the students up in to groups and gave each group three terms to define and come up with an example. We wanted to make it extra hard so – one example had to be based in sound, one in movement, and one in image. The first class took significantly longer to develop and share these projects than we thought. They were great to see, but they kind of spun out into complex performance pieces. We minimized this in the second class by only passing out two terms to each group – sound and image as the resulting examples. This periodic review is quite useful, and allows students to build vocabulary as well as tools.

After that we presented a slide show and videos with some examples of Destructive Art pieces as a way to follow up the Destructive Art project assignment. This gave way to the next class where I discussed and showed examples of Glitch and Circuit Bending as a way to develop some more contemporary destructive examples. Some good discussion and questions – my favorite being – why would you do that to a CD?

The following class was another kind of review class in which we gave the students the SSC material and Present Moment material from the first class and then discussed how it tied into this class. We started with groups again and had students make connections between the SSC list of ideas and the Gen Art list of ideas – either evolution, affront, or something else. The conversation after that point was largely focused on the common P2P question – what has changed and what has stayed the same across this year of study.

Ah – that brings us to the Destructive Art projects. Always a bit unnerving since we have no idea what direction this will go. But all in all I would have to say that most of the projects were delightful – some challenging, others less so, some contemplative, some performative, many engaging. A number of the ideas we discussed surrounded how the spectator was implied – willingly or no – into the process – as voyeur, as witness, as accomplish. It’s an interesting position to help kill a plant or watch someone stuff food in themselves and either do or not do anything. This level of provocation was quite interesting. Totally shatters the white cube idea of the museum and begins to cross over into life. Real things in real time were happening – some pleasant and other not.

Once again, we notice a profound difference between classes. The first section is a bit more contemplative, focused more on objects and processes, whereas the second section leaned much more heavily toward the performative. Both engaging, but in different ways. But one other factor stands out. The first section seems much more engaged in developing a conversation about the work, where as the second section seems to burn up that energy in performance. With each class there are a few outlier students that cross the opposite direction. We wondered what would have happened if we had identified them early and swapped sections.

We discussed a number of ideas at work in these pieces – starting with what type of materials were involved (lots of water as a solvent, and ice melting, and gravity), but also the implication of the spectator and implied or enacted violence – which played out in a number of ways – physical, psychological, political, passive. Many of the pieces built on a sense of anticipation – a “what will happen next” or “when will this thing finally happen” vibe. True to form – the sections diverged in the presentation – one we moved station to station to see the pieces, the second seemed more like a set of sideshow acts presented simultaneously. May have something to do with the object VS performative nature of the two sections.


The last piece we tried to get the students to focus on was how these pieces functioned conceptually. So – after assessing what elements were involved – what ideas were animated, what kind of impact dis that make. We have decided to focus more specifically on that for the final project – designed by the students – but needing to be focused on a specific concept or idea. Some students have been doing that since the first class, but for others that may be a greater leap. How all of this leads us to today is always in the back somewhere – running noticed and unnoticed. Should be fun to see where this takes us.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Days Seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen:

OK – spring break done – now to nudge the class a bit farther along on the gen art timeline. The Fluxus project has been developed over a number of years and a number of iterations and refinements. The first time I used it in a P2P class was in the Aesthetics of Dissonance back in 2012. My mistake was to time it right before spring break. It was the high point of the term, but we were never able to get the momentum back. In subsequent teachings it was moved to right after the break. Fun, chaotic, noisy, it is a good way to return to the class. I felt like there was quite a bit ridding on this piece and had really talked it up to Bob. My fear, of course, was that it was just going to crash and burn. It didn’t.

What was odd about this time is that students in both sections immediately started performing them simultaneously. Some, I suspect, as a way to mask their response, but other saw opportunities to overlap pieces and basically dove in when they felt the impulse. This lead to some amazing collisions of pieces. Hard to see everything, but the chaos really had a live and in the moment quality. As typically happens – some pieces bore, and others confound, and yet others demand attention and silence. While I prefer the one at a time model since the quieter more still pieces can emerge, there was something quite beautiful about the presentations. One thing we did notice – the 8:30 class spent a bit more time winding up to chaos, whereas the 10:00 started there. It’s hard to sustain over time – so the 8:30 class did a much better job of drawing the pieces out in time.

The following class I was out for administrative stuff – so Bob discussed some non-dualism material and worked with the students to pull out some basic ideas from the fluxus pieces and then they created new ones. His take was that they were not as successful as the first round, mainly because there was almost no one left to watch, but also the refinement didn’t help the overall process. A very valuable lesson.

The next class I presented information on chaos theory – with the idea that we have already seen examples of sensitive dependence, iteration, and strange attractors. Perhaps not as successful an integration as I would have liked, but a few of the students dug into this material, so it may have an impact later on. We started the class with the “one second late” piece in which they fill in five events that happen because someone started their day one second late. Its always interesting how they degenerate toward violence or destruction, some every day, and some fantastic. I have heard very few positive takes on this.

Today was day one for the fragmentation projects – and I’ll hold off on a complete discussion of them until we have finished the second group. But what we saw today was great. The students that are willing to challenge themselves to think through the process of taking something apart and reassembling it get to reflect on their process and what it produces. There are still some students that we feel are kind of phoning it in – doing the least invested pieces they can. It’s a shame because they are all bright enough to turn in some wonderful work. We do occasionally see students we thought were tuned out wake up and do some great stuff. How to keep them awake is more complex.


One more thing I will mention. Bob and I went back to the Solo olos rehearsal to watch four more iterations of the dance. The first one was amazing. Some lovely images and movements ridding right on the edge of collapse. The other three were good, but did not have the spark the first one did. Abby is working with the students to not get too comfortable with the piece. She also encourages them not to try and control it too much. When the caller tries to shape the piece by looking three or four moves ahead it loses something. Fascinating that they have to work so hard to be indeterminate.