Not long ago, I revisited an old idea with a friend at work: The Exquisite Corpse drawing game. We wanted to use it as a way to encourage some asynchronous play-activity among members of our busy and dispersed work group, to share or generate ideas, and to maybe generate some humour and surprise by chance.
The Exquisite Corpse game developed originally as a writing activity where participants contributed successive lines to a hidden story and revealed the full results later. The name “exquisite corpse” came from one contributed sentence from one particular game. It evolved into a drawing game where players would add sections to the end of each other’s drawings, without seeing the previous contributor’s work.
Surrealism evolved out of the Dadaist movement after World War 1. It was originally literary, expressed in poetry, prose, and sometimes through an experimental activity called automatic writing (and as I recall, another term for this may have been “psychic automatism”). The Surrealist movement was driven by poets and writers like Andre Breton, painters like Freida Khalo and Salvadore Dali, and photography and film artists like Man Ray.
Surrealists were deep explorers of internal landscapes and of the meanings that emerged from the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated symbols. They were interested in exploring subconscious imagery; the themes and symbols that lay beneath the conscious mind, such as dreams, non-verbal desires, or primal urges.
Personally, I’ve found a lot of satisfaction in using collage of magazine and newspaper imagery to create unexpected images. Whereas in the exquisite corpse game where each participant hides their contribution from the next player, a solitary collage doesn’t involve other people, but still provides unknown directions or unexpected ideas from moment to moment, based on a somewhat-random selection of visual elements, and any haphazardness or chances taken in how images get cut up, torn, and recontextualized.
I usually start with a large plastic bin full of magazines and scraps from coverless comics or newspapers. I just reach in and pull out as much as I think will cover the sheet of paper in front of me. Sometimes a few scraps will be so visually strong that they’ll drive an idea to be formed around them. Other times, a theme only emerges after a few pieces have been placed to set some scene (like sky, ground, trees, or buildings). I may use tape to tack things down, and use glue or rubber cement once a piece has remained in place for a while, as I build and develop things around it.
My themes almost always involve the human figure or some almost iconic form, and emerge from my internal themes of power, helplessness, mother/father, joy, ego and pride, fear of the unknown, virtuous ideals, sexuality, or pain.
For me, it works like a kind of visual self-talk therapy; a way to build a personal mirror, and to explore what stares back at you.
Over the backyard, grey clouds thickened and threatened to rain. Two crows fought raucously over a chicken bone near the garbage cans, and two sets of shoulders propped themselves on opposite sides of a common fence.
“So, that nephew of yours took off again, did he?” Cora Wilkes never did much to hide her disapproval of Sally’s young charge.
Sally Morgan wasn’t having it. “The boy’s only taking his journey – doing what he needs to do, that’s all.”
Cora snorted a little. “Don’t you worry about him? What’s he going to do? Running off and bumming around like that? What about school?”
“Well, Sal’s taking his own path. He’s…”
The dispute between the crows became louder and more heated. One grabbed the chicken bone and flew off, drawing shrieks of protest from the other crow on the ground.
“He’s being a bum!” Cora hadn’t expected to blurt it out like that, but there it was, how she felt, plain as day and she couldn’t take it back now.
Sally squinted and held Cora’s face in narrow, squinty contempt for a long three seconds before breathing out and letting a calm understanding smile take her face. “He’s not being a bum, Clara, and he’s not running away from anything. Why, it wasn’t that long ago that my folks and I had to move around from place to place to find work. My uncle rode trains and trucks from one side of the country to the other looking for work! A little travel’s not the end of the world.”
“That was different,” Clara retorted. “Folks had to move – to live! To find a new start!”
“Sure – a new start. They did it to pay the rent, and feed their families. Sal’s doing it to pay his dues, and feed his mind and soul.”
Cora mumbled something about her laundry, and turned away, not willing to meet Sally half way in Sal’s defense. Sally felt a loss, but knew that some people just need to experience the world face first to learn anything. That was something Cora and her nephew actually had in common, although Cora would never see it.
Farther down the sidewalk, a small bone fell from the sky, and a young crow swooped down from a branch where he’d been watching his peers fight. He picked up the bone and took off easily, heading into the wind with new rain in his face.
This little video is my response to the Creative Task for Chapter 4 (“Inspirational Week”)
The proposition for the task was this:
Take a camera, be it you mobile phone, a webcam… Introduce yourself to the other StoryMOOCers, telling us who you are where you are from and most importantly: which works inspired your interest in storytelling most up to know. Pick out 1-3 works of art, literature, film, TV, game, a website or else and tell us what’s so special about it that you think it might help inspire somebody else anywhere on this planet.
The Eastside Culture Crawl is East Vancouver’s own open studio tour. I don’t go every year, but have gone for many years. It feels good to wander through studio space, smelling paint, sawdust, and sometimes coffee, tea, and cookies.
Wandering through a painting studio always gives me a sense of wonder, like I’m exploring a mysterious territory. It’s so refreshing to not know what you’ll see next.
Back in the 80s, as an art student, I studied some drawing and a lot of computer graphics, which was just starting to evolve into a useful medium through relatively inexpensive home computer systems. With the exception of a little ink or graphite, my hands stayed relatively clean while I drew using a mouse.
So occasionally, my curiosity would lead me to the painting studios at my art college, where I could experience colour as it was embedded in thick pigment. I could see the physicality of its application, smell the oil and acrylics, and see the splatters and splashes of physical action. Computer graphics had – and have – none of that physicality or real-space depth and reality.
Yeah – I’m going through a DEVO phase again. I listen to their music all the time. Their voices and sounds are familiar, like visiting an old neighbourhood.
I get emails from Club Devo,and see snippets of mutated art from Mark M., photos from their irreverent, young new wave days, and so many artifacts of their gleeful, tongue-in-cheek self-promotion. Echoes of the back-of-the-comic ad, junk culture that they enjoy.
Every 6 – 12 months, something bigger than my playlist brings the Devoids to my mind in a more significant way. Something new bubbles up in the media. This time, perhaps it was the unfortunate death of their friend and long-time drummer, Alan. A very sad loss, indeed. Their own “human metronome”, the driver of their complicated, syncopated rhythms, was no more.
Gerry Casale started following my Twitter feed the other day, and it made me feel a little closer to the source. The more DEVO videos or interviews I watch, the more I read, the more they’re like citizens of some weird hometown – the guys who struck out a few years before my generation, and who did all the cool art that I wish I’d done.
I love this passage from the book “We are DEVO!” by Jade Dellinger and David Giffels):
In his book Fargo Rock City, rock critic Chuck Klosterman wrote that “Listening to (Eric) Clapton was like getting a sensual massage from a woman you’ve loved for the past ten years; listening to Van Halen was like having the best sex of your life with three foxy nursing students you met at a Tastee Freeze.” To extend that metaphor, Devo would be the equivalent of auto-erotic asphixiation, the sexual technique of partly hanging oneself during masturbation to achieve a more intense orgasm.”
(Having been to one uninspiring Clapton concert, I think that Klosterman likes Clapton a bit too much.)
Yeah, so DEVO is an acquired taste – not the flavour (or party favour) of the week.
But, yeah spuds, challenge me please. Make me think, or make me argue. If you can get me to write or think about what you’re saying, well, you’ve found that devolved nerve ending and twanged it nicely. And I thank you.
Clapton and all the 2nd-wave Brit rock gods, as incredibly talented as they were musically, never made me think about a damned thing. But the DEVO experiment got my attention, and they’re still doing it.
This blog post and the embedded video, form my Digital Artifact , my personal response, to the MOOC “eLearning and Digital Cultures”. In this post, I’ll try to respond to the propositions it has put before me, and to the methods and patterns I’ve observed in it and in myself.
About the Video…
I didn’t set out to emulate “The Machine is Us” or any of those first-person, typing-on-your-screen responses to modern tech, but in retrospect, my video kind of looks like one of them.
But, the way it looks came about purely practically:
I wanted to use my voice. Maybe this was because the vastness of the MOOC classroom made me feel like it was difficult to be heard.
The MOOC is a heavily visual experience (all those videos, and scrolling of screens to read things), so my response had to be full of images and motion.
I knew it would be made up of some kind of collage of images, but I didn’t know I’d be sampling my own web surfing so directly. This was like a riff on the act of doing web-based research.
I wanted the video piece to look and feel a bit obscure, rough or hand-rolled, not perfectly trim and clean. Plus, time would be an issue, so I had to figure ways to do things live, and to move things around on the screen in real-time. Time was my enemy. I’d probably need to work fast.
I had a rough script, but was ready to improvise if need be.
How the video was produced:
The video came into being through a combination of digital and online resources, and coincidental, guerrilla production methods.
I’d originally thought about doing a Prezi or a slideshow as the format for my final piece, but after thinking about it for a while, I decided that those formats would either be too restrictive, or too over-used. I would definitely record something off my computer screen though – maybe using Jing…
My next concept was to create many little graphical clips – little cutouts – in Photoshop, and move them around on Photoshop’s artboard, like little 2D puppets on a digital “stage”. (Maybe the “Bendito Machine” video had influenced me subconsciously?)
As the deadline approached, the prospect of capturing and clipping dozens of graphics – maybe even one hundred – seemed hugely impractical. I needed a more immediate, more rapid way to get my idea across. I decided to try to stay with the “stage” idea, but move bigger and fewer pieces of art around.
I built a simple Photoshop project that used a soft-edged rectangle, like a soft viewport or blurry camera iris. I decided that the first few moments of my story could represent a frame of my expectations – the fuzzy edges might stand as a visual metaphor for the uncertain boundaries of my expectations, or the blurry boundaries that I perceived to be the student parameters of the MOOC itself.
Beyond that, I had a number of concepts that I’d thumbed into my smartphone during a coffee break. I knew the story would trace a line through the content that I’d experienced thus far, and through my reactions to being a MOOCer, in general.
I set up a small 640 x 480 rectangular area on my screen to record, and I abandoned Jing in favour of its “big brother” app, Camtasia Studio.
This became as much of a temporal collage as it was a spatial collage.
As soon as I got to record the first web page in the video (in this case the front of edcmooc), I decided to abandon the Photoshop artboard “stage” altogether, and just grab whatever I could online to tell the narrative I had sketched out in Notepad. I would just capture whatever I could in my browser (making elements bigger so they better filled the screen and the user’s field of view), and use whatever images I could find on the fly from the web.
I began recording, and would pause from shot to shot, to change what content would appear in the little 640 x 480 capture area. This allowed me to create the whole sequence in chunks of one minute or so, or sometimes as brief as a few seconds. This gave me the freedom to work rapidly and change things on the fly, spending 10 or 15 minutes between “takes” to select and compose what would go in the next little sequence, or consult my little script (which you see me doing in the video), and practice or re-do my audio narration.
The music track was from a creative commons source, and any coincidences of images and sounds (like when an image appears right in time with a strong drum cue or something) is purely and wonderfully coincidental.
So, there was some predetermined design, and there was some random chance, and some on-the-spot improv, which felt very liberating. There was a logistical framework in some of the preparation, and most especially there was a definite mental framework in all the concepts which had been interconnecting in my mind over the past few weeks.
But it was truly recorded as a sequence of brief little live performances. Recording and editing the initial 12 minute “draft” version of the video probably took me five or six hours. The next day, I emailed and tweeted the YouTube URL around to get some feedback, and then spent another hour later that night tightening up the editing, adding graphics, and refining the music volume.
Then, I spent another few hours working on this blog post, in order to try to explain (and rationalize) it all…
What my Digital Artifact probably says about my experience…
…is that after the first few weeks, I think I responded more to the process of MOOCing, of being a student in a MOOC, than I did to the actual propositions put to me by the course facilitators and the course content. I always have been a bit more interested in process rather than product. I think that working in relative isolation, with only a vague feeling of online “connectedness” to instructors or colleagues, tended to make me turn inward more and more. Instead of reaching outward to collaborate with my online classmates or facilitators, I turned inward and did a more personal analysis of the internal learning and thought processes which had been triggered – some of which from twenty five years earlier! I think that’s what my artifact communicates: my reactions to the process in which I was immersed.
I enjoyed creating something that moved and contained more than one mode of apprehension (i.e. voice + video + music). I think that I ended up responding to those same qualities in the MOOC content…
The little animated chunks of video, which delivered little windows into someone else’s world.
The relentless reading and scrolling and clicking to get from idea to idea (an animated experience in itself).
What does my experience reflect? Is it useful to the MOOC itself?
A friend and fellow classmate in this MOOC told me that being in it felt a bit like being in art college all over again. I must totally agree with that statement: that is very much how it felt for me as well. And for me, that’s a good thing.
But, is it useful information to the facilitators of this MOOC or to the developers of the versions of it that will come after it? Just what kind of teaching and learning have we been undertaking here in MOOCland, and what are those Masters students in the U. of Edinburgh getting from studying this massive online learning experiment? And what does Coursera get out of it?
What is a MOOC, after all?
Is it just Edutainment, as some people fear?
Is it a new excuse for more web surfing and social media?
Is it actually some yet-to-be-validated form of social learning?
Those questions will take me much longer to answer.
Also, yes, I’m tooting my own horn on this post: one of my illustrations was actually used in this Prezi. It had been my entry into the MOOC’s “make an interesting image for Week 2” competition. I never won enough “likes” or whatever on Flikr to win the prize, but seeing my illustration used as a slide in this Prezi is prize enough for me.
For an assignment for the MOOC, eLearning and Digital Cultures, I created my first Prezi…
It’s my little abstract reaction to the bewilderment of feeling lost inside a 40,000 member Massive Open Online Course.
The MOOC I’m taking, E-Learning + Digital Cultures, continues to unfold in front of me, gradually showing me new perspectives and more detail. But it’s not for the impatient…
For me, being in a MOOC has felt like being seated inside a vast, unlit stadium where you can hear other attendees whispering and you can see their messages on the walls, but otherwise, they remain invisible. Getting acclimatized – even feeling welcome – does not come right away.
A few weeks later, this is still more or less my experience, but my eyes seem to have adjusted to the darkness now – I feel like I can see better and interpret more than before.
Gardner Campbell’s Open Ed 2012 keynote address hit me like a bolt to the brain… [It] made me feel inspired and energized to explore my own spaces between art, technology and learning.
In the Week 2 resources, under “Perspectives on Education”, the video of Gardner Campbell’s Open Ed 2012 keynote address hit me like a bolt to the brain: his passionate advocacy for truly open learning, his challenging definitions of what he felt it should be, and his support and appreciation for the interdisciplinary responses of his students – all of these factors made me feel inspired and energized to explore my own spaces between art, technology and learning. I think I may have found a new inspiration – someone to study more closely.
When I was in the Emily Carr College of Art + Design in the eighties, I learned about media theory (e.g. MacLuhan), multimedia and hypertext (e.g. Ted Nelson), and visual literacy and visual perception (e.g. Tom Hudson, Rudolph Arnheim, Johannes Itten). Some things I learned from reading books or watching videos, but a lot of information I got first-hand, from seminars, workshops and special research projects. The people I learned from in-person were all artist-educators who were actively exploring ideas through their own art practice or educational research, often using consumer tech on shoestring budgets.
Back in my days as a multidisciplinary art student and research assistant, my greatest personal challenge was to interpret and synthesize all the raw information, and later, decide how to express my experiences. Many of my extracurricular readings covered topics in AI, cybernetics, user interaction, and theories of learning and education. I was all over the place conceptually, and loved it. Science educators like Seymour Papert and Alan Kay caught my interest for their explorations with interfaces and user (student) interaction. I read about the MIT Media lab, and all its explorations into media, technology, art and science. I read articles from the ISAST Journal “Leonardo”, and learned about PhD-level multidisciplinary art and science research projects. A good deal of the theories and terminology was just over my head, but I had found an interesting, fertile territory to consider, in the intersections of art, education and technology. Convergence was just starting to happen, and it was a fascinating thing.
My multimedia instructor, artist Gary Lee-Nova, helped me understand the relationships between modern analog and digital media, perception and society. Gary talked about author William Gibson and the idea of cyberpunk way before it was popular. Research, exploration and personal development were fun back then.
My mentor back in art college, Dr. Tom Hudson, opened my mind to modernist Bauhaus art education patterns, and under his guidance, we updated and reinterpreted them by using desktop computer graphics programs to research visual literacy and drawing systems.
After graduating from Emily Carr’s four year diploma program in 1989, I opted to pursue computer graphics, animation or commercial design as my career path, instead of art education. Tom had, at some level, hoped I would continue pursuing art education as a career. I did teach computer graphics in night school for a few years, tutored art privately, and was an Artist-in-Residence in the Vancouver School Board, but I never went into education in a more formalized way, like by pursuing a degree.
After 20 years working in the commercial sector, bringing visual design services to software/hardware developers and business people, the exciting theoretical, creative aspects of my thinking felt as is they had atrophied and needed some dusting off. My Modus Operandi had become one of speed and economy: skimming the surface of the pond of ideas to get from questions to answers, and from initial request to practical deliverable, as quickly as possible. Any education I took from my graphics career was of a short-term, tactical nature. I learned what I needed in order to fulfill a particular short-term goal. In that kind of mode, there wasn’t much time or interest in theory.
Now, I’m employed in Vancouver’s largest vocational college, helping teachers to adapt their experience and materials into online courses. In a higher education institution, my perceptions and reactions have had to adjust to a more deliberate, thoughtful form of delivery: integrity over speed, and quality over quantity.
Now, it feels like I’m rediscovering the joy of the interconnectedness of ideas – a multidisciplinary approach to things. I’m fascinated to see some of the topical connections between Seymour Papert, Alan Kay and Gardner Campbell.
I can, and should, now enjoy taking a deep dive into topics, instead of just skimming the surface.
It’s a long hello, but worth the wait…
Explorations in learning, ideas, and design by E. John Love