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.
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.
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.
I must admit that I’ve sometimes asked myself a question very similar to this. I’ve asked myself “Am I losing my short-term memory?” or “Am I losing my ability to concentrate for long periods of time, or to read long passages of text in one sitting?
I do believe that over the years of web surfing (which I’ve been doing since 1994 or 1995, when the first browsers became widely available), my ability to concentrate or my pattern of reading – the way in which I consume words – has been modified by the activity of surfing online. I do feel as if the hypertext, hunt ‘n click web has modified my behaviour. I can feel that I’ve become more of a browser than a reader.
Has Using the Web Trained me to Click Instead of Read?
It’s a fair question, as if the online world of information is like an endless, all-you-can-eat buffet. I may be in line to put together a meal from beginning to end, but the act of gathering what I need comes in little chunks, with possibilities for distraction at each new connection point. I’ll take a little bit of one site, a little bit of the next, etc. etc. Skip, skip, skip. Click, click, click. It’s more like an endless stream of consciousness, and it’s easy for me to get drawn off-course from an original train of thought onto something completely different. I think it must be the combination of my own curiosity and the seemingly endless array of links to other destinations.
But There’s a Physical Difference to Reading Online too…
I have always read, and I still love to read – novels, magazines, comics and graphic novels, and now more than ever, news and current events. But, I find reading from an LCD display to be much more difficult than reading from paper. Consistently more difficult.
I read a lot of text online, but it doesn’t mean that I’m no longer capable of reading a novel 0n paper. I love reading paper books and magazines (and even the occasional newspaper) – I’m just not quite to used to it as I was before.
So, I think the physicality of reading off a back-lit display of pixels (i.e. teeny little Light Emitting Diodes), combined with the click ‘n browser nature of hypertext brings me to a McLuhan-esque “Medium is the Message” realization:
I’m not getting dumber because of the Web, but I do think that the Web itself makes me read in a shallow way.
Robbie tells the story of a space-faring android who is the last occupant of a space station orbiting the earth. I could easily tell that this film was composed entirely of stock footage, but then again, how easy would it be to shoot your movie on the space station (or a realistic, earth-bound mockup). Nonetheless, the repetitive, stock footage appearance of it put me off a bit. Aside from that, Robbie is an engaging tale about survival, loneliness and angst from the perspective of an artificial intelligence.
I don’t know if 4000 or 6000 years of feeding its neural net with information would result in an android that would have dreams – literally flights of fantasy – and not for one moment did I buy the premise that Robbie wanted to be Catholic.
I’ll say that again: Catholic. I’m not anti-Catholic or anything, but such a specific choice of religion seems out-of-place. Is the author of this piece likening Robbie the Robot to Jesus, by virtue of his symbolic impending death (and do we presume, rebirth?)
My expectation of an autonomous, artificial intelligence would be that it would be somehow more neutral, probably atheist or maybe humanist. It either wouldn’t believe a religion or perhaps it would believe in the species which created it. Okay – so, I’m an atheist and I have a hard time with that aspect. I’ll leave that point alone, and get on with it.
No – I just cannot leave the religion aspect alone on this one…
The idea that a robot with what we consider to be A.I. would care about one religion over another probably says more about the film maker’s attempt to imbue his protagonist with some kind of “soul”, so that the viewer will empathize with him. “If the robot wants to believe in God, then he must be more like me than I thought. If he could consider accepting God as his creator, then he must have a higher level of enlightenment, just like a human.”
If, however, Robbie were to possess the actual mental engrams of a former human being – if a human being’s actual thoughts and personality could be transferred into Robbie’s memory and mechanical frame – then THAT would convince me to feel sympathy for Robbie’s plight (his curse of immortality).
But so long as I believe that Robbie possesses a 21st century version of artificial rationale, I can never consider him conscious, and so I will never accept him for much more than a glorified electric screwdriver left behind by a space workman. How cold-hearted am I? I just didn’t buy into this movie’s attempt to tug my heart strings.
Gumdrop was a sweet little comedy, and a gentle visual sleight-of-hand. By substituting a young human actor with an android auditioning for an acting job, we end up starting to think about the values and hopes of the young actress, mechanical or not. Gumdrop was a light-hearted examination of the casting call too: do we treat each other like commodities or machines? Does the audition process demean the female actor? Should human actors be worried, now that we live in a world where lots of supporting and lead characters only exist in an animation database, but never in the physical sense?
Gumdrop’s vacuum cleaner gag was very funny. But, does that mean she’s really just a glorified Rosy the Robot? What happens when the acting career is finished, or when she outlives her warranty? Will she get literally dumped on the scrap heap?
For some reason, I care about Gumdrop more than Robbie. Maybe it’s the human motion and voice. She’s much more likeable than Robbie. Like they said in Pulp Fiction, personality goes a long way.
True Skin is an extremely well-made, and convincing film. Very Blade Runner-esque. Great Raymond-Chandler-inspired dialogue. “Their eyes burned holes in my pockets” was a brilliant line.
So, the one thing all these films have in common is that they live or die by the quality of the plot and the dialogue. Yay, human writers!
In terms of the humanity proposition of this week, I think this film does the best job of articulating some major issues:
If there comes a time when we can no longer define or recognize humanity by its fleshiness, will it still be considered human? Is a cyborg who is less than 50% flesh and bone still a human being? Maybe the more metallic and less meaty we become, the less human we will be perceived to be. Ben Kenobi said of Darth Vader: “He’s more machine than man now, twisted and evil.”
On a personal level, if a friend of mine had their thoughts transferred into a little computer, and I could interact with them (either text, or maybe Max Headroon style on a display screen), would I still consider them human? Probably not, if I could put them into Standby Mode, or turn them off, like any other device. So, maybe autonomy and self-preservation are other key aspects of being a sentient being?
I loved Avatar Days. The simple concept of transplanting a fantasy persona into the owner’s real-world life and society is an extremely powerful thing. It’s done so matter-of-factly and carefully that it becomes a real artistic social statement. Coolest of all, it’s contemporary. You can get immersed in World of Warcraft or Second Life and become a sword-swing, spell-packing nerd of Azaroth today.
I’ve played around in Second Life a bit in the past (reporting as “Earnest Oh”), so I can appreciate the appeal of being able to put on that second skin and walk around (or remove it and assume the position, in a lot of people’s cases… yeesh, people). It makes you wonder about the boundary between fantasy and reality for one thing. I read somewhere, that internally, your brain does not distinguish the difference between a memory of a real event, and a memory of a dream. They’re both equally valid as memories, even if one of them didn’t occur in the physical world. So, if our brains are already wired to accept dream-memories as valid, why wouldn’t we send coma victims to Azaroth to kick some goblin ass as part of some cognitive stimulation therapy? At least they’d have something interesting to do.
What about The Matrix as Long Term Care Facility? Let me extend that interesting idea into my personal life experience…
My Mother was a long-term care resident at our provincial mental health hospital for many years. I’m willing to bet that if my poor Mum were able to choose between (A) stay in a semi-vegetative state with little physical activity and not much on TV, or (B) Be Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz (her favourite movie), she’d have gone for Option B and never looked back. And if I could have visited her on the yellow brick road instead of in the awkward, cold silence of a hospital visiting room, I know which choice I’d have made too.
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.
Every few years, I go through a “music phase”, where I feel inspired to pick up my acoustic and learn a new chord or two, or try to learn a tune on our little Casio keyboard. It feels good to explore a different kind of expression, even as a periodic novice.
Inspiration can come from different sources. The biggest inspiration for me this time has been the great Jimi Hendrix. I guess I became most musically self-aware during the 70s and 80s, which was really a time dominated by heavy metal, progressive rock and new wave. The blues and blues-rock of the sixties were already being treated as passe, yet for my generation, the sixties were marketed as “the good old days” and could be heard every day at noon on “The Electric Lunch on CFOX.
I heard Hendrix on the radio a lot back then, and became fascinated by his crazy, spacey sounds, his incredibly powerful guitar riffs, and the honesty that came out in his singing voice.
I read James Henderson’s biography of Jimi, called “‘Scuze me While I Kiss the Sky”, and I realized that parts of his life story really resonated with me: he struggled with alcoholism in his family (me too), and he lost his mother when he was in his early teens (mine almost died from liver failure, and after brain damage and institutionalization, was unable to recognize her family most of the time).
In Hendrix’s voices (his own and through his guitars), I heard a quest for love, a sense of loss, and a fire to identify himself in the world. He had a lot of real poetry and passion in him, and all his music felt to me like very personal statements, whether it was funky, bluesy, folkish, or heavy electric..
If I draw, it can be immediate, messy and expressive, like the manic scribbles of an angry child.
That feels good.
However, collage from found commercial images is my favourite method.
I like the idea of co-opting some art director’s vision, shredding it to bits, and putting the elements into a completely new context that suits my needs. I’ve learned that using “found images” evokes sub-conscious themes; archetypal symbols, dreams, or metaphors that are sitting underneath my skin, waiting to be re-used on paper. Some of the themes they evoke are inherent in the image, so really, at some level, I’m tapping into the collective unconscious that I share with that original art director or photographer. They just didn’t give me permission to so that, but so what…
I have (so far) resisted using digital tech for my personal images, sticking with scissors, tape, glue, pen, pencil, and crayon. I have a large plastic storage box full of odd magazine pages, and piles of ripped out, cut up elements: hands, arms, faces, spines, textures, dark silhouettes, and various angels and monsters. Fashion magazines often provide a rich storehouse of raw material for my surrealist visual “riffs”.
As I cut out bits of images and move them around on a page, a foreground/background theme, setting, or figure may begin to emerge. Rarely have I ever sat down with a particular idea in mind beforehand – it comes from the process of exploration, play and chance.
Creating a collage feels most personal when working by hand, directly applying paper to paper, tacking bits in place with tape, and then gluing them down into final locations. It feels like a little stage.
Explorations in learning, ideas, and design by E. John Love