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.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

7 things about me, 7 People I want you to meet

I’ve been tagged by Michael Anton Dila in a kind of social media “you’re it.”

The Rules for This Particular Meme

* Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post. (see above)
* Share seven facts about yourself in the post. (see below)
* Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs. (see below)
* Let them know they’ve been tagged.

I've only done one other meme in my life and there are really two reasons for me doing this one. The first is that Michael Dila is my hero. He has been my hero since age 19 when we were both in college, he at Earlham and me at Mount Holyoke and we were both in love with Nietzsche. My other reason for going along with this game is an awakening I have had of late as I spend time with tweet-peeps I have only met on the wire: Where most of my friends who haven't spent much time on Twitter and Facebook, shy away from the publicness of the life on social networks and find it somewhat creepy-- too much information thankyouverymuch-- I have come to see from these interactions that our humanity, that raw everydayness that is human, is quite a cherished gift and worthy of the moment to moment share. The more I get acquainted with this humanity, the less inclined I am to respond carelessly to whatever is going on in the lives of others whether it be violence or tragedy or joy or a moment of celebration. So it is with this intention to give myself away in that raw-everydayness kind of way that what follows follows. Also, I want you to get to know the blogs of some of the tweet-peeps I read and admire.

1. I had a best friend in Birklea British school in Norway called Fiona Young. When we did sleep-overs, her parents played classical music real loud. I wasn't used to that at all. We ate British sweets and savories-- Marmite, Drumsticks, and Refreshners --all the time and we had many many secrets. Mostly about boys. I lost her friendship to a Scottish girl named Tarla Duff who seemed to have a never-ending supply of British sweets to share with Fiona. I was too bossy to be part of the two-some suddenly.

Do you see the Refreshners? I loved them:

  • 2. I had my own little gramophone before my brother was born and even though I didn't know how to read I knew how to find the one and only record I loved to listen to. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh and there it was in the middle of a pile of records. The song I loved started with the word "Banafshe...." in Persian. Do you know how it goes? Tell me if you do.

    3. When I see a violet, I think "she" looks like my mother. If I'm by myself, I say "Hello." Friends don't always understand....but of all the things that are possible isn't it quite possible that my mother was a violet?

    4. Adding "...of it" to the end of any sentence makes me laugh. So, for example: "It's the Sunday of it." {Ok... so... I agree that wasn't terribly funny. But try it. It'll crack you up in the long and the short of it.}

    5. The words I regret the most? That I told my auntie to tell my parents that they could, "Throw him in the dustbin!" when they called from the hospital to tell me I had a little brother. I wanted a sister. I was 5.

    6. When we lived on a farm outside of Tehran, I had a little tin wind-up toy that moved about awkwardly and looked like he took photographs. I still wish I had him. I still wish we had wind-up toys made out of tin ...and monkeys with cymbals.

    7.I fell in love with Griffin, my cat, 16 years ago when he crawled up on my lap and started massaging my velvet black skirt with his little baby paws. He had me at "hello." His photo heads this edition of The Negarpontifiles.

    My 7 people are:

    Gerry Canavan

    Juan Cole

    Cathy Davidson

    Amanda L. French

    Rahaf Harfoush

    Miss Rogue Tara Hunt

    The Bloggess Jennifer Lawson
  • Thursday, January 8, 2009

    Give me some change AND I'll touch you.

    The decision to move to the United States in the mid '80 and to start college at Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts was an easy one. It was the transitioning into American culture and knowledge that was difficult. Growing up in a wealthy social democracy like Norway, didn't help I have to say. I knew virtually nothing about poverty. I had traveled a lot, of course, but living the extremes of wealth distribution is something very different.

    I am not saying that money makes or breaks a person, but in a social democracy you "get" that no matter what you do, no matter who you are, no matter what you think, or how big or small you are as a social entity, you matter, you count, and you make an impact. To me, that consciousness can be the only explanation for the fact that so many Norwegians read 2-3 newspapers a day. And, why, despite its size, the country offers so much foreign aid and serves as a site of asylum for so many refugees and exiles. In fact every news event creates a stir in Norway, as if the nation could be at risk or could possibly be involved in some measured way. 9/11 and the Anthrax scare, I remember, had the Norwegians taking extraordinary precautions. It was almost as if they believed that the global hierarchy of national importance went something like this:

    1. United States of America

    2. Norway

    But I am all the way at the end of a tangent here.

    I remember coming to Mount Holyoke for the first week of school and becoming friends with women whose cultural context and drives were very different from mine. There was literally a fight for attention. A competitiveness-- an assertiveness with a hard, sharp edge--seemed ultimately to define "the mattering" of my fellow students. There were hungry beasts all around, uncaged suddenly, as if the absence of men, they who were the source of all oppression, they, them, their absence would finally mean my presence as woman. We called it feminism. But our culture refers to it more broadly in terms that coin the concept of individualism.

    "Mattering," it seems to me, goes beyond this form of individualism. Because, if you know you matter; if you know you are a contribution merely by being a living, breathing, conscious entity on this planet, there is an ease to the ways in which you move, the ways you interact with and impact the world and those around you. That ease of the "I" as "resource- centric" stands in stark contrast to the " I-or- them-centric" culture we know as American individualism. (My hunch is that all the self-debilitating, the cutting doubt people carry, on the one hand, and the self-aggrandizing chest beating of the massive egos we witness in our global culture, on the other, stem from this "I-or- them-centric" cultural stance.)

    As second semester starts at Duke University, I remember a button my Mount Holyoke friend, Sunny, wore on her coat. Scribbled hobo writing on a tiny round button read: "Give me a quarter or I'll touch you". I thought it was funny then, though I didn't really understand it. The button, now, 20 years later, takes on a new meaning as I embark on a new semester.

    My biggest challenge this semester is not the new class, a new syllabus, or the new tools for learning. I have put together a syllabus that requires students to participate through social media networks, blogs and Web 2.0 in the generation of pubic knowledge. Keeping abreast of these networks and the technologies that allow them to function is a challenge, certainly, and strange as it is to me, I have come to realize that I am the one teaching my students how to create a blog, how to sign up for and follow conversations that shape-shift our perceptions at lightning speed on Twitter. I talk to them about how to connect, to learn and to communicate responsibly in public space. And adamantly and passionately argue alongside my amazing colleagues for participatory learning in the Humanities (I swear, by the way, now that I keep going off on tangents anyway, that I'm getting a Cathy Davidson tattoo right next to my Joan Copjec one! It is going to have her Cat-in-the-Stack avatar smack next to it again !)

    As I look out at the faces of the students in my classroom I realize that it's not the technology nor the networking that is daunting, though overwhelming to start. I know that if I can learn to be a bird on a wire and twitter tweet tweet o_O, so can they.

    Dimming the lights enough for them to see the screen, I look into their eyes one more time and it's like a jolt of electricity going down my spine. I suddenly realize that my challenge is not the material. My challenge is to have my students get that they are a contribution: "Give me some change!" *" I'll touch you" Odd or even: each one of them is a contribution. I am that I am the difference.

    So, here I am picking up Paulo Friere. once more.

    Ps. Check out these stunning contributions to participatory learning and knowledge production and exchange in Humanities:

    Cathy Davidson's 3 part blog http://www.hastac.org/node/1866 on Digital Media and Participatory Learning (Humanities 2.0) and Twitter at the MLA

    Matthew Gold on the Rise of the Digital MLA http://mkgold.net/blog/2009/01/03/mla-2008-recap-part-1-the-rise-of-the-digital-mla/

    John Jones on the MLA Twitter panel: http://www.hastac.org/node/1876

    Saturday, January 3, 2009

    Gleanings from the Baha'i Conference in London January 2009

    I am watching the London Conference tweets on Twitter. The tweets are coming out of the historic Baha'i Conference held in London this weekend, January 2-4 2009.

    My family and many of my long time friends are there. I thought I'd share what I'm glimpsing from that conference with you on the Twitter fountain.

    As the day unfolds, some of the audience members are posting pictures on TwitPic. Here are some by Barney Leith

    Cllr Uransaikhan Baatar on TwitPic

    Cllr Stephen Birkland on TwitPic

    Here are photos from Day 1 and Day 2 talks and workshops by Bibhas Chandra Neogi:

    Late night writing: Barney Leith reflects on the conference's first day:


    In the morning he tweets that he is too sick to attend the conference. Thus begins Day 2.

    Photos from Day 2 of the conference by Rosalie Williams:

    Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

    Norwegian and Finnish Baha'is performing on stage.

    Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

    A little girl singing a prayer.

    Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

    Conference workshop.

    Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

    Meeting of the Greater London Cluster.

    Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

    Closing remarks by member of the British National Assembly

    Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

    Conference close.

    Rosalie has more photos from the conference on her blog:

    That's it folks. The conference attendees are packing their bags and heading home. 13 IPGs promised in response to the House's request for 6 to be formed this year.

    Sadly, Barney Leith got sick for Day 2 and won't be posting an update on the day. I feel like I got a taste of what so many of my friends and family experienced this weekend. Thanks Barney, Bibhas, Rosalie and Afshin for your tweets, FB photos and Twitpics!