Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why I miss Myst

I woke up this morning with spinning tops, pendulums and waterfalls in my head. I think that I was subconsciously trying to come up with a solution for the third project. Upon waking I realized that I would never be able to solve this project question just by thinking about it. I would need to get my hands dirty. It was interesting to see in class that the change in language from “machine” to “system” appeared to be a much larger leap than I had anticipated. “Machine” seems compact, object-like, functional, whereas “system” seems to demand a much larger focus. Despite those issues, I still feel that a number of the first two projects would qualify as “systems.”

Bob and I gave the students a number of readings that all hovered around similar ideas – ideas of repetition, non-binary, system-like behavior. Contained in those readings I feel are solid clues to how to approach the third project. We are not playing “I’ve got a secret” in the sense that we have readymade solutions to this assignment to pre-judge how it is executed. Quite the contrary. Whereas I had immediate solutions to the first two projects I continue to wrestle with an approach to this one. Again – I will need to stop thinking about it and act in order to understand it better. But I believe that ideas like iteration, rhizome, decentralization, and sensitive dependence upon initial conditions are all useful ideas in dealing with systems.

Oddly, it feels like if we gave very specific instructions – leading the students into very specific areas with a pre-ordained solutions to judge them against, then it might be easier to approach this project. There would be a standard with which to measure student work. Shooting for an articulated goal is much much simpler than having to construct your own goal. In a way we did something like this with the first two projects and folks still chose which rules to adhere to and which to violate. The end result was that they created something. Perhaps the problem with the third assignment is that there are fewer rules to violate or embrace. So – the focus moves from the question (or what the instructors anticipate with the question) onto the student. This is the shift in generative art – away from a contained and complete piece to a negotiation between the art and the viewer. While I would not want to discuss it this way, each solution to the assignment is correct – they are just correct in different ways.

Building on the chaos theory, non-dualism, etc of the pervious readings we had the students watch films on Christo and Andy Goldsworthy while also reading an article by Steve Reich on music as a gradual process. These pieces add to the ones from the previous class. In fact, they cover very similar ground. So – this class felt a bit like a plateau, a holding pattern, or a gathering of energy and ideas to prepare for the next assignment. The gist of all of this is to help the students understand that it is not what Bob or I want out of these assignments, but what the students want. I love logic puzzles if for no other reason that they get me to use my brain in ways that it doesn’t often get used. For that reason I am a huge Myst fan. I love wandering around an empty world filled with machines and systems begging to be explored, animated, and tinkered with. While these games may inevitably have a specific function or specific solution, each viewer approaches them differently and solves them in different ways. I tend to think of these assignments like that.

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