A Networked Narratives hangout last week with digital artist Emilio Vavarella provided some keen insights into how an artist might use digital tools and technology to make statements on the connected world. I popped the video of the interview into Vialogues so I could watch at my leisure and add comments/ questions/ observations as I went along.
Emilio has done some pretty interesting art endeavors and museum installations, including:
We’re exploring the art and act of Selfies in Networked Narratives, as Mia Zamora and Hannah Kelley are researching the impact of selfies and plan to curate a public art exhibit under the banner of #SelfieUnselfie in Norway. Both are on Fulbright Scholarships right now and focused on digital literacies (I think).
Take a look/listen to their project and their invitation:
True story: an hour after watching that video by Mia and Hannah and thinking about the idea of the Unselfie the other night, my wife and son and I sat down to watch an episode of the Modern Family sitcom, which opens with the parents berating the older daughter for laying around all day, taking selfies on her phone. (Later, we learn she’s been building a blogging site for fashion and making money of her images of herself and her fashion choices).
My 13-year-old son pointed to the television.
“That’s what the girls do,” he observed, “at school. All the time. Selfies, all day long. It’s annoying.”
Not boys, we asked?
“Some,” he admitted. “Not like the girls. It’s like they want their image everywhere.”
There are a lot of layers to the act of creating Selfies — from identity in the digital world, to capturing moments as memories, to connecting in social media with others, to artistic choices that get made (or not). More and more apps now help you “touch up” the Selfie, which seems at odds with its original intent to me (which might say more about me, as a middle aged white man, than many selfie takers.)
I went into my own Flickr account to search for “selfie” and only a few popped up. Either I haven’t done many, or I don’t save them. I suspect I don’t often think enough of the Selfie itself to put them into my Flickr for saving. Selfies seem more … momentary, temporary, fleeting. Interesting.
Some of these I found (like the eyeball image at the top) are from DS106 prompts, I realized. And a few are from an old webcomic site I used with my sixth grade students. In it, they would create avatars as representations of themselves.
Remember that year, those movie stars at the Oscars created that famous group selfie? Suddenly, everyone knew what a Selfie was.
I used that a visual prompt for students that year to create webcomic selfie collages. I did one, too. Some of the characters in here are avatars of friends from the Connected Learning MOOC and other social spaces.
And my students did their own Selfie collage activity, with friends avatars joining them.
The SelfieUnselfie project asks us to create an unselfie, so the other night, I did.
They also ask for an Artist Statement:
With my comic, I was trying to capture the idea that instead of us using our technology to capture an image of us as Selfie, it would instead be the reverse: our technology using us, on a Selfie Stick, to capture a representation of it for the world. Sort of like a cultural mirror. And of course, the devices wants to know how it will be perceived on social media.
Underlying the lightheartedness of this comic Unselfie is the real concern about technology driving our agency for us, instead of the other way around (us, making decisions with technology as a tool for expression), and how our devices seem to become a larger part of how we sculpt and curate our digital identities. Are we pushing boundaries or are we falling prey to our devices?
In my move to not lose too many of the small poems and wanderings I am doing for the Networked Narratives daily prompts, I am trying to curate my digital work into video collections (although I know it all gets collected at the Arganee site, too). The above video is the latest round of pieces.
(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
Most mornings, we have a Circle of Power and Respect in our sixth grade classroom. It’s a version of Morning Meeting, aimed more for older students. At this point in the year, I have my students lead all aspects of our morning.
One element of Circle of Power is the initial greeting, and there are all sorts of variations of activities that one could do, and I encourage my students to invent their own way of saying hello to every students in the classroom community, and making sure everyone feels welcome into the day.
The other day, the student leader — a bit of a goofball who straddles the line between serious and goofy on a regular basis — told us that the way we would greet each other is with the phrase “Do you know the way?”
Or, as he pronounced it with exaggerated emotion: “Do you know de wae?”
I did a little double-take because as soon as he said it, there was a lot of laughter in the room. I had never heard the phrase, but I could sense immediately this was some sort of online joke, video, game or meme that was outside my field of vision.
I had three options as teacher at that moment:
I could say, find another greeting, but that seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to youth culture
Stop everything and search online, but that would have gummed up the morning meeting time
Ask for more information, which I did
The student told me the phrase was from a game that became a meme, and he assured me it was not inappropriate for school. I decided to trust him, and the phrase of “Do you know de wae?” made its way around the circle.
Later, I immediately went into Know Your Meme, a database in which memes are deconstructed and traced back to their origins. According to Know Your Meme, the “Do you know de wae?” and found that it originated from a character in a Sonic the Hedgehog game called Uganda Knuckles.
From Know Your Meme:
Ugandan Knuckles is the nickname given to a depiction of the character Knuckles from the Sonic franchise created by YouTuber Gregzilla, which is often used as an avatar by players in the multiplayer game VRChat who repeat phrases like “do you know the way” and memes associated with the country Uganda, most notably the film Who Killed Captain Alex? and Zulul. The character is associated with the expression “do you know the way”, which is typically spoken in a mock African accent and phonetically spelled as “do you know de wey.”
The meme has gone in all sorts of strange directions.
There have been accusations that the meme has racist overtones, however, with the pronunciation in fake African accent and may be built upon African stereotypes. Roblox, a very popular gaming platform site, apparently even banned the character from its server games because of concerns about negative stereotypes.
After talking some more with my students about using the meme, now that I had some information to speak from, I realized that they were not even aware of the racist possibilities. They were just amused by the funny character who repeats the same ridiculous phrase over and over again. Still, a discussion helped frame the meme, and I haven’t heard it in the classroom since then.
I did ask my own 13 year old son when I got home that same day if he had heard of the “Do you know de wae?” meme. He goes to a different school in a different community, with a different crowd of kids, and he immediately knew of the meme, too. (A year or so ago, we had a long discussion with him about using Pepe the Frog and he was startled by the how the far-right had appropriated that meme for its own dark purposes.) Needless to say, he immediately knew the meme and said many kids in his school were saying it in the hallways, as they moved from lockers to classrooms — sort of as a directional sarcasm of the school-day experience.
All this goes to show the cultural power of memes and the difficulty we adults have in understanding their stickiness, never mind the origins and the mad rush of social sharing across platforms. Memes often are part of the language of youth, even if they don’t always comprehend the underlying cultural appropriations and potentially negative messages embedded in the memes they use.
The folks in Networked Narratives have held two “flash” events on Twitter, examining a piece of Digital Art and tweeting to a series of questions. Both of the Flash events happened when I was either working or sleeping (which is fine, since part of the NetNarr community is overseas).
I decided to keep exploring, anyway. So, this is a bit late. Consider it an echo.
The artist group explains: “This was done so by utilizing more than 20 units of these flying machines, flight swarming formations, music, and 16,500 LED lights to combine into a single audio visual extravaganza.”
That was stunning in its coordination and synchronization. I almost felt like I had too many lights on in the house as I watched. What came to mind is how the drones and the LED lights was the art in movement and Mt. Fuji was the landscape backdrop to the art. You never lose sight of the mountain, even as the lights on the drones dance to create the ballet. You do lose sight of the drones, however, which is interesting. The technology disappears. The mountain is left in sight. The lights dance. I wondered about the ways they pulled this off, with the music (which I really loved) and the dance and the drone flight patterns. I’d love to see the blueprint for this ballet, and be the fly on the wall as they grappled with the technological challenges. Is this art? Yes, this is art.
The artist, Lisa Park, explains: “Throughout the performance of ‘Eunoia II’, the intensity of my feelings at the time are mirrored in the intensity of the sound in terms of volume, pitch, feedback, speed, and the panning of the sound output. The result was that the water responded in real-time creating different formations of ripples and droplets in unpredictable patterns.”
Huh. First, I liked how we could see her setting up the art, the water. The views of the world, of humanity, at the start led me to expect something else, entirely. Maybe a piece of public art. But this art was very private, and I was having trouble making the leap from that public space, and her emotional response to the crowd and city, to the ripples on the water. It wasn’t clear to me what emotions she was tapping to make the water dance. The intention — of using emotions to create sound to create physical interpretations with nature — is intriguing. There was something very beautiful of the views of the water in motion, connected to her feelings, but I wanted more from this piece, although I would be hard-pressed to say exactly what I wanted.
I wonder and marvel at how artists see the media and technology around them and think, can this be used to create art? Is this art? Like our struggles with defining (or not) the term Digital Writing, this concept of Digital Art continues to be something we grapple with, play with, argue for and against, and celebrate when our hearts are touched by the experience.
Further investigation of Digital Art continues with the Net Art site, which has all sorts of intriguing possibilities.
I saw Alan Levine sharing out an element he made the other week in a tool created by Bryan Matthers, at his Visual Thinkery site, and I decided it might be fun to give it a try. Bryan’s tool is pretty simple to use, and yet, the visual design is appealing. I made four elements, all connected to the concept of digital writing.
This week in Networked Narratives, one of the assignments is to watch the “Nosedive” episode of Black Mirror on Netflix, which tackles through its dystopian vision how the world is revolving more and more on the “like economy.”
The Black Mirror Wiki (yes, of course, there is a thing) explains:
Lacie Pound lives in a world where anyone can rate your popularity out of five stars, from your friends to strangers you meet on the street.
As with other Black Mirror stories, this one takes the tech-infused idea to the extreme, as Lacie tumbles into social media wasteland after her own brother trends her downward.
I found the ending to be interesting, where Lacie has all of her approval technology removed after an episode, finds herself in jail and yet approaches real happiness and freedom when she starts to trade insults with another prisoner. They are no longer shackled by technology.
I decided to sketchnote the story as I watched the episode, to try to capture in doodles what I was seeing and thinking about. This was the second time I have seen Nosedive, so I sort of knew what was happening.
For the start of Networked Narratives, I decided to send one of my comic strip characters on an adventure through the fictional world of Arganee. So Horse with No Name (I left The Internet Kid at home) set forth and met some strange creatures — bots and dogs and alchemists — and went on a Quest. I had fun making the comics, which I did in a just a few days in a burst of storytelling and then released them somewhat daily into the NetNarr stream over two weeks time.
I often wondered what the NetNarr students in the two University classrooms were thinking, if they even caught the comics. They were just starting class, and maybe barely wandering into the hashtag.
A research endeavor in Networked Narratives is an invitation to curate and document early examples of New Media Art from a book no longer readily available, except for its examples in the Internet Wayback Machine. Cool. Work done to document the art will eventually end up in this Tumblr site.
Students from different NetNarr classes and the open web are invited to join in. Scroll down through this post, about midway, and you will find instructions. From that same NetNarr call to help document early New Media Art:
For an appreciation of current digital art we will explore these foundational examples of digital, networked art. They represent a time of wild experimentation, new technologies, but also to see what could be done with much slower and less sophisticated internet. But also, we will examine the issues of how well digital art holds up over time, especially when many were created with technologies not currently available, or have themselves vanished. It also opens the door to question the ephemeral nature of digital art.
Here is mine, which looks at an example of early cultural jamming with technology and media and art:
Title of Art Work: ToyWar
Artist name(s): ®TMark
When it was published on the web: October 5, 2013
Technologies used: Website design
Current URL (if still available online): Not available
A brief summary of the piece, not just copied from the book (quotes are okay, but write your own analysis of the piece): The ®TMark (or art mark) was a network of anti-corporate parody and satirical artists, designed to poke holes in the nature of the emerging Internet and information networks through what is known as “cultural jamming.” It’s first venture was known as the Barbie Liberation Organization and it later was the target of a legal battle from the musician, Beck, for its appropriation of his music. ®TMark often asked for ideas from its audience, and supported and even funded the development of such art. Its work had a significant anti-corporation nature to it that rattled the business world. The ToyWar effort is a good example, as it used biting satire in a real-life legal battle that unfolded in the courts over the use of the name “etoy,” with an actual toy company fighting a small artistic collective over the name and the web domain name. ®TMark’s project zeroed in on the way the business world takes ownership of names through legal battles and intimidation, and this cultural jamming project is reflective of an era when corporations began gobbling up URL and domain names. The®TMark group seemed to have developed extensive “war documentation” of the battle between a small company and the larger corporation, turning the financial and legal battle into a form of public art and protest, including the development of a “game” in which ®TMark members took part in Denial of Service attacks at the corporate website in a form of virtual “sit ins” and other new media protests.
Screenshots that represent the work
Information on where the artist is now: It seems as if the ®TMark may have fallen apart or merged into other anarchic collectives. Online searching reveals little information about the project and the collective’s website link seems to have been taken over by some Japanese contraception company marketing the “after pill.” Joke? Not? Subversive Art? I don’t really know.
The cool thing about taking photos is that you have to look at the world a bit different. It’s not just the device you see through, it’s the way your eye sees the world through the lens that sees the world.
Yesterday, before the Networked Narratives Twitter Chat (which I forgot about until it had started), there was a NetNarr Safari activity, which involved taking seven photos over 15 minutes with different visual prompts coming in over Twitter.
I arrived when it was over (or, as we say in CLMOOC, I was right on time), but then decided, what the heck … and so I did it on my own, scrolling back through the NetNarr Twitter feed.
I didn’t leave the room I was in, so my safari was not all that wild. Microphones instead of monkeys. Socks instead of snakes. But I liked how the physical confines of my space forced me to consider the visual prompt (like, two objects that don’t match or one color or some kind of tracks), then look quickly, make a decision, snap the shot, tweet the results and move on.
The downside is it felt one-sided with no interaction with other NetNarr folks (and except for Wendy, whose safari I see this morning, I haven’t seen anyone else’s), since I was late and the Twitter Chat had already started (I was late to that, too, but enjoyed the topic of Digital Art.)