Preparing for Day of DH 2010

I’m both excited and a little nervous about participating in Day of DH 2010.  In preparation for tomorrow, I am reviewing my calendar, setting up my RSS feed, preparing my blog, gathering my equipment (flips, digital camera, recorder) and working on a short consent form for photos and videos.  I can’t wait to see the whole day play out.  What a great project to participate in:)

The Art of Daily Life

“The ephemerality of silence made itself known this morning, sometimes silence doesn’t like to be recorded.  Real practice is messy.”

Art that deals with the everyday has always been of primary importance to me. I find daily life to be a source of inspiration. As part of my art practice I collect silence, or what we might at first glance call silence.  I find the textures and nuances of silence intriguing.  I’m not sure what I am going to do with them yet.  My collection practice is directly inspired by John Cage’s 4′33, a piece that consists of four minutes and thirty-three seconds of “silence” in which listeners become increasing aware of the sounds of the environment.

The use of materials that are familiar to deal with and themes that are similarly immediate can have direct and powerful effects.  Henri Lefebvre noted in “The Everyday and Everydayness” that the modern world forces us into artificial cycles.  He argued that by making a conscious decision to realize these cycles and return to natural and meaningful cycles, “the artificial mechanism of their grouping is recognized and the fatuousness of their diversity becomes intolerable.” The paradox is that as we preserve something we make it static, and separate the work from its living context. With “silence” the background sounds call attention to that living context that is not quite there, with the distraction of the foreground removed.

Being able to speak in the visual vocabulary of real, daily life requires thoughtful collection and archiving of materials. It requires images, objects, and knowledge. An archive is not just accumulated parts. It is selected by a careful process, one that is unique for each archive and archivist. What and what not to include when making a work is an even more careful selection. The art of daily life requires observation and reflection.

I’m excited, if a little nervous, to be sharing some of my daily practice here.  Collecting, reflecting and selecting make up a lot of what I do.  These little archives end up driving a lot of my pieces, but like Walter Benjamin unpacking his library, I think the practice is more important than its results.  But then I’ve found that the creative process to me is the real art, moreso than the end product.  The meaning is all somewhere in that daily practice, and it doesn’t necessarily rest cleanly on a wall.  It is messy and iterative, problematic and wonderful.


Research

My research comes from my daily interactions in life, leading me to ask new questions, find new information, learn new skills and formulate new answers.  Process is an experimental, dynamic, and organic process.”

I find that my day to day life provides me with numerous experiences that influence my art practice.   I strive to situate every aspect of my life  around my guiding principle – be committed to what you believe in.  For me this means have meaningful relationships, creating art within a social context, demonstrating that the process of creating art is as valuable as the product or object itself, and consciously making decisions based on the belief that actions in life should accomplish meaningful social change.  Since I feel this way, I am incredibly happy that I am able to contribute to the field of digital humanities in many aspects of my life, from my work at the Library, to my dedication to my art practice and my fortuitous opportunities to teach information literacy, research methods in expressive culture and computing in the arts at both the College of Charleston and the Art Institute of Charleston.

Today, on Day of DH 2010, I find that I will not be teaching any of these topics.  Instead, I will be answering a large quantity of emails, monitoring library twitter hashtags, promoting LITE (Literacy, Information, Technology, and Education) workshops on Facebook, answering virtual reference questions, assisting students with multimedia projects, and manning the Research and Information desk.  My work at the College of Charleston Libraries continually exposes me to new individuals, questions, information, technologies, outlooks, and perspectives.

The question I found most rewarding today was from a student who had to substantiate their argument that the memorial of Calhoun should not have been erected due to his stance on slavery. It was an interesting argument when taken from their contemporary point of view.  The Civil war and its impacts are a common theme of research at our institution, particularly in light of the layers of history our city is built on.  Fortunately, we have a great Special Collections department with amazing staff.  We were able to locate an original pamphlet containing speeches of John Calhoun and Daniel Webster on the subject of slavery delivered in 1850.  The pamphlet has not been digitized yet for our digital collection but the student was able to physically review the pamphlet in our library.

I’m always surprised how the threads of events lead to more events and how our own actions have subtle yet powerful effects on outcomes.  I like to think of them as if then statements.  In this case the string of events led to a higher probability of the pamphlet getting digitized and put in our digital collections sooner than later, particularily in light of the fact that the student received the assignment from a professor, who assigned it to multiple students and is likely to assign it again.  My interaction with the student led them to the primary source, and their first visit to the special collections department.  The special collections staffs willingness to provide the document when needed influenced the student to choose this resource over a monograph easily located in the stacks at the library.  The demonstrated need for the resource will ultimately get the document archived in the permanent digital collection, making it accessible to even more individuals.


I am grateful for technology and the new methods of interaction it affords. It provides a new canvas for workBecause of projects like this one, we will see an explosion of artistic creation documenting the contemporary social fabric in the years ahead.  As an artist, I see archives of collaborative digital projects giving us a useful common ground for discussing art and society in the future.

Teaching

It is from the cultural context of a work, however shifting, that we separate signal from noise, add the resonance of our own experience, and derive ultimate meaning.”

In the daily interactions that affect my process, I always keep coming back to Daniel Buren’s “The Function of the Studio”.  Buren was one of the first to argue that the institutions of Western art, the studio, gallery and museum, reinforce dominant cultural hierarchies and conventional notions about what art itself is.  I see this reaffirmed in the works of many of the artists I admire: On Kawara’s long series of daily paintings, Cornelia Hesse-Honneger’s deconstructions of scientific authority, Paolo Soleri’s community-centered architecture and Sol Lewitt’s conceptual art. The art and information I discover in my “notebooks” reaffirms my belief that art is about ideas, about process rather than product. My studio isn’t a building or a room. It isn’t even my laptop or “the Cloud”, though they’re both instrumental.  My studio is in my head.  It goes wherever I go.

But the ideas and processes in your head are difficult to hang in a gallery.  Information can’t be framed and left still, deprived of its original context, if it’s going to carry its message.  That context is part of the message.  It can’t be separated.  It is from the cultural context of a work, however shifting, that we separate signal from noise, add the resonance of our own experience, and derive ultimate meaning.


These ideas float around in my head as I get together my syllabus for Art and Anthropology, my web course for summer.  I’m introducing students to visual anthropology, and to a lot of postmodern ideas about culture, context and the construction of meaning.  Instead of treating visual anthropology as the methods of social research applied to artistic endeavors, I will attempt to allow the two to blend into a seamless whole, opening artistic eyes toward new anthropological approaches. I want my students to experiment and be creative as they learn to see in new ways, hopefully changing their ideas about what research and publication can encompass. Anthropologists have made use of photographs and videos as part of ethnographic research for a long time.  The ubiquity of opportunities to create multimedia in our era offers a chance to extend these practices, raising new questions to explore about both the objects of study and the ourselves, the viewers.


The asynchronous, online format of the class will allow motivated students be flexible with their time and their approach to tasks. The course will require a lot of daily interaction, though so we’ll using a lot Web 2.0 tools, including VoiceThread for sharing and commenting on media, GoogleDocs for collaborative writing and a WordPress blog as the class container. As the students go out and do their own research, we’ll come back to talk about what cultural objects and practices they’ve discovered through visual exploration.

Again, even though the products the students will create will doubtlessly be exciting, it’s really about the process.  Buren would be glad that there are no studios here.  On Kawara would appreciate the ephemeral daily process of it all.  Soleri would appreciate the community and attention to structural and institutional factors that affect us daily.  Much like in a drawing class, visual culture is about learning how to see, how to reframe and reinterpret. This is how our budding artists and anthropologists will learn to actively appreciate the production of knowledge in particular cultural contexts through visual realms.