Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Days Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen:

We used an open class day to pull together a number of threads that had been developing. Bob put together a fantastic presentation with Cage, Reich, and Eno functioning as examples of artists that were an affront to an established system, experimented with the system, and finally found a way to integrate back into the system. The point with this is for students to begin to see generative work not in isolation, but as helping to develop viable tools for artist to employ. The timing of the presentation was great – with just having finished the sequence on indeterminate and generative music and right before the third project.

Part of the drill with the project courses is allowing students the space to understand the material on their own terms. This happens as they execute the open-ended project questions and wrestle with a specific framework or direction, but need to animate how that is navigated by them. Students naturally begin to gravitate toward mediums, elements, symbols, etc that are meaningful to them. The result of this process is that they have ownership over both their work and their understanding of the material – not merely regurgitating what the teacher has said. So – the open day is a point to remind them that they already understand a great deal about generative art whether they recognize it or not. This is a much slower process than more traditional approaches like lecture or seminar, but the pay off is that their understanding is considerably deeper and richer.

By this point in the term – right toward the end of the first third – students have been exposed to the following ideas:

Layers of meaning
“Devaluation” of skill
Artistic eye
Unintended results
Audience interaction/implicate viewer in process

Typically to generate this list we ask the students what techniques or ideas have they seen develop in the projects and conversations. We then supplement that this with ideas that we may have noticed but have gone unsaid.

This brought us to the third project – making a simple machine. The assignment was to create a machine designed to make a sound. The parameters involve taking no less than one minute and have at least five steps, with the encouragement that students think about things like -  motive forces, variables, time, space, speed, weight, friction, distance.

The results are always quite telling. At least half of the projects don’t work the way they did at home, and some fail to function at all. Sidestepping the issue of “success” or “failure” we try to discuss what was produced independent of intention. Often the end result is as if not more interesting than what was intended. So – it is kind of a loaded question in which we know that a certain percentage of the projects will not progress the way there were intended. For some students, who have internalized years and years of standardized testing as the only measure of success – this is a hard class. But the follow up questions are about what they learned from what their project to do. This is the first step in pushing them away from their work so that they can reflect upon what is created. The next project completely takes control out of their hands. It is always fun to see what that produces.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Days Eight, Nine, Ten:

Moving from the second projects into John Cage material worked quite well. By focusing on process the idea is that students would have a greater understanding of Cage’s methods than merely just reading about them. I must admit that the students who abstracted a process and used it to shape the result of the piece offered some really good insight into usefulness of this idea. Direct application, while interesting, tended to reveal itself fairly quickly. Building off of these projects we had students create a Cage inspired soundscape. Essentially a process piece with the timeline and intensities laid out, but with sounds to be filled in by the students.

The results were fascinating – similar arc – but lots of variety within that arc. The megamix of all seven projects (three from the first section and four from the second) show where the pieces began to pull away from each other in time.
The Cage day was mainly devoted to the exercise and to exploring some of his scores, 4’33” and a video on a prepared piano. Cage then becomes a lead in to Reich and Eno.

As I have done in the past – we had students listen to Reich’s Pendulum Piece – microphone suspended over amplifier – as a means to discuss process. Then it is on to a listen of “Come Out.” This pieces, though 13 minutes long, is a great example of process and product collapsing into one idea. Reich merely sets the loops in motion (with some after the fact tinkering). The point that came up in both classes is that what we listened to was unlikely to be the first time he tried this. The question then is – how long did he experiment before he found something he thought worthy of listening to? This is the big change in the Gen Art class from last time – a greater attention to the role of the artist in all of this. While skill and technique get put into question – concept or idea is moved to the forefront.

Reich gave way to Eno and we looked at his 77 Million Paintings and ipad app – Scape. What was unique about this time is that Bob created the suspended, melting sculpture that periodically released pebbles onto xylophone bars creating a ringing sound. Impossible to predict the next sound, the dropping pebbles animated the entire class time and provided a good basis for discussion. We did notice that the dropped pebbles, due to the shape of the bars, tended to cluster into specific areas. A nice strange attractor for us to address with the chaos material.

We ended the class urging the students to begin thinking through the material we have covered so far. The goal with this is to circle back around and discuss ideas, techniques, and how they relate to the SSC material. This is an optimum time to do this – to take stock of where we are – and help shape the rest of the term. One thing that I always forget about these project courses is that they tend to feel a bit wander-y – as if we are just floating from topic to topic. It seems to take longer in these courses for a clear picture to emerge of the subject. We are right at the point where it will start to emerge. That leads us into the last project of this section before we dig a it more deeply into indeterminacy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Days Five, Six, and Seven

As so often happens – I get way behind on blogging on the class. A good sweep of days here – moving from the first project through in-class work to the second project. Bob and I focused on the Zen and Thich Nhat Hahn material as a way of reviewing the first projects. The impulse was initially to call the first project “non-intention,” but it worked better to focus on juxtaposition with non-intention being a by-product of executing the projects. Through this conversation we developed a list of terms, ideas, techniques that we intend to circle back around to after the Reich and Eno material. A discussion of eastern and western approaches to art making was a good place to focus our energies. Control VS natural process. The discussion was OK – we are finding that the first class takes a bit more time to warm up to the conversation, whereas the second section dives in deeper sooner. So – there is a bit of a disconnect between the sections, but not by too much. We also find, which is no surprise, that we understand the material better in the second section and have streamlined the ideas. I do wonder how much this impacts the level of conversation.

The next class was focused on four in-class exercises that developed out of what I used to call “dadaday.” Tzara’s dadapoem, Burroughs’ cut-up, collage, and the surrealistic game exquisite corpse. Four stations – 10 minutes each – then share samples from each group. It is always interesting how this arcs – first quiet and focused – like good students – toward more cacophony – toward chaos – and then back to quiet. It was easier to share the textual material than the images – so we had the students post them on the wall and gathered at the end to discuss. As opposed to the last time Bob and I taught this class, we continually ask students about the use of these technique and process in their arts area. Looking at things like juxtaposition, chance, fragmentation, etc it is often a mindset or abstraction rather than a direct application. As was discussed – it would be easy to use the corpses and collages as inspiration for text, sound, character development etc. The suggestion that a collage could be used as a text for a piece of theatre, music, or screenplay was met with interest. Bob’s acknowledgment that the by-product of the process was to create some “interesting” images.

This has been an idea we have returned to a few times – largely through Nile’s questions about what “interesting” means. Bob and I keep wrestling with this notion as I don’t really feel comfortable with the “good” and “bad” designations for projects. I would prefer to discuss projects that are more interesting than others. By design, this has a vague definition since what is interesting to one person may be boring as hell to another. This fits right in to our discussion of how the viewer can contextualize a project in a number of different ways.

Next class was dedicated to presenting project #2 – one designed around detailing a process for an everyday activity and then creating a painting or sculpture using this process. Not a simple question, but one that yielded some great results. There were a number of students that interpreted this in a linear and literal way – marching though the steps one at a time or incorporating the steps into the piece itself. We started by just looking at the pieces without the process. Paused to ask questions about commonalities and difference between projects. The process pages were then set out, a second review of the projects, and then on to discussion about what we see. Here we noted direct applications as opposed to abstraction produced quite different responses. Abstraction took a bit more time to digest and often yielded more complex results. Although I should qualify that “complexity” was often contained in some of the simpler projects where simplicity created a greater need to dwell. We have the next round of project #2 tomorrow.

Part of what we are working to have the students focus on is process – the steps by which something is executed. Underneath this are two elements – we will eventually separate the students from the work, and there is probably some commentary built in to this about the process they are acquiring here at the school. The next project will move from identifying to creating one and then setting it in motion. Should be interesting.