Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Art: In collaboration

I suppose I could have made different choices about the flow of the last 24 hours but I don't think I could have choreographed a sequence that would be so completely coherent, composed harmoniously out of so many divergent threads.

I returned a few hours ago from a talk by Allison Clark on a virtual collaborative environment called OurComixGrid. The talk was put together by HASTAC on the Duke Campus at the Franklin Humities Center. In her talk, Clark described the OurComixGrid environment as digital collective space in which artists, students, teachers and researchers collaborate around what Clark calls "mulitmodal learning". --A learning model based on the comic strip, which combines text, visuals and sounds-- and all this sometimes within a digital environment.

As my tweets from the talk show, the OurComixGrid project is still a theory, not yet even a Beta that artists can test out. But the idea behind OurComixGrid is shamelessly progressive: Artists and educators can come to this site to hold meetings, much like what goes on in Second Life, but here in the OurComixGrid environment they come to "bat around ideas on images, text, logos, storylines and sounds"-- They log on to collaborate and to create art. Anyone, even a curious visitor, without any knowledge of how to create comic graphics or online art can use OurComixGrid to generate powerful graphic art.

As Clark explained in the Q&A, the project is in part focused on underrepresented groups who have had little access to representational tools and /or digital technologies. Arguing that hip hop is IT, Clark suggested that one entryway into the collaborative artist space may be by way of turntablism in hiphop where artists sample, scratch, splice, overlap and edit, but in the domain of sound and music rather than that of image and text.

The talk was my first live feed experience, as I challenged myself to tweet for an as-yet-unknown audience. I wanted to contribute to the collaborative spirit of the project somehow. So it was the content as well as the generative ideas behind OurComixGrid that motivated my live tweets. But truthfully, I came to the talk already inspired by a fearless move that I had witnessed the night before in another big room with a screen at Duke...

Returning home late last night after a long day with students in a workshop on Narrative Cinematogrpahy, a workshop that was conceived out of a new collaborative model of teaching film and digital media at Duke, and then after the workshop, a screening of the brilliant animation of the Ramayna, Sita Sings the Blues, I realized how much my consciousness had shifted in the last two months. I also realized that that shift had opened up a world that I could only guess at, but that I had never really experienced before. Only a scavenge of words could describe the experience in that moment-- as a world of collaboration, a world absorbed with the concerns of the present, a world alive to the abundance of possibilities that an as-yet- unknown-future would hold.

Having faced copyright restrictions on the music for her Sita Sings the Blues, director and animator Nina Paley decided about 3 months ago to turn to audience distribution and open source to broadcast her animation far and wide. --Neither term is fitting here, I notice. Both 'distribution' and 'broadcasting' are responsive to older media and to capital-centric modes of production. --But there shes was, the director of a most stunning reinterpretation of the ancient Indian epic, the Ramayna, in animated form, suggesting to a room full of over 100 mesmerized viewers that anyone would be welcome to rip, share and give away copies of her animation; "Yes!" she said, to everyone's surprise, "Go ahead!"

It seemed to me a rather trusting move, but my was it inspired! I really "got" Nina Paley's fierce fearlessness vis-a- vis her art. I saw, too, in a flash that in a world "gone 2.0" --from education, to business, to parenting--this, the surprising ecstasy of contribution, co-creation and serendipity--a passion symptomatic of an abundant consciousness --is precisely where we are heading, all of us, if our lives are lived entirely with the stream of life itself and artfully.