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New Media Art and Disability Awareness in Russia

October 19th, 2013

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One of my TV interviews at the opening of “Sustaining and Creating” at the State Russian Museum

Well, that’s it. Close the cover, button the clasp, and toss the book on the shelf. Thanks to an incredible amount of support, this week I accomplished just about everything I could possibly hope to in my career, and I am on cloud 9 x 999. (I edited that sentence several times… initially it said “art career,” but that wasn’t encompassing enough.)

This past Monday I set out on a Kennedy-Center-acquired grant to St. Petersburg, Russia. The Russians had allowed a show to take place in their State Russian Museum (the largest and finest collection of Russian art in the world) featuring only Americans. The show was organized by VSA and featured some absolutely fantastic art.

I have a great relationship with VSA and I was thrilled that they asked me to go as their sole representative to the opening: it was not only my opportunity to debut The Almagest Series at one of the more incredible museums in the world, but an opportunity to raise awareness for disabilities like Tourette’s Syndrome. I prepared extensively, but had no idea what to expect.

Wow.

Four talks, a press conference, 5(+) television interviews, radio interviews, and hours upon hours of conversations later, I am done.

bell

The madness started Tuesday. My first event was giving a Master Class at the Smolny University of the Russian Academy of Pedagogy with students who were learning to become art teachers. A tour of the University allowed me to glimpse what incredible drawers and painters they all were. I presented for about an hour and had such an enriching conversation with them… they were eager to learn more about coping with disabilities and we created audio/visual pieces together. My favorite part of the talk was showing them Videopong; they all created their own video pieces using the free resources that Videopong can provide. I am so excited that I was able to spread video art in this way, and that they will in turn be able to show their own students. They gave me a bell they had handpainted as a thank you… it’s beautiful!

Tuesday night (and again Thursday morning) I spoke to masters students at St. Petersburg State Bard-Smolny and St. Petersburg State University about approaches to new media art, both in studying it and installing it in galleries and museums. I’ve never seen audiences so interested in how to install a SONAR sensor! I felt like a toy soldier who’d just been reassigned to Candyland.

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The exhibit sign outside of the State Russian Museum

Wednesday was going to be my easy day…I took a trip to the Hermitage and then went to the State Russian Museum for the press preview, and I did a couple different interviews before the show opened. The setup was elegant and beautiful. The Almagest Series was showing in two different rooms in the museum (a former palace), synced up… the sound creeped along the floor but also echoed on the 20+-foot-high ceilings. The effect was incredible… it truly helped the piece fulfill the meaning of “ambient” (I love Eno’s definition–the piece works equally well when paid close attention to, or when taken in passively).

Then I was taken to the large hall by the exhibit entrance. We opened the door to open the exhibit, and behind it there must’ve been 150 people for the opening conference… including 6-10 (I don’t even remember) television cameras, journalists, and radio people with microphones facing the front. And, of course, one microphone in the front facing all of them. Thankfully the exhibit curators spoke first, so I had time to prepare some quick remarks! This exhibit was a huge deal for three reasons:

Alice

  1. The art was incredible. Seriously, check out the work of Alice Chen (above). Look at the DETAIL in her work. The image just can’t capture how gorgeous it is.
  2. The artists’ stories were inspirational. I was so privileged to share the stories of these artists with the Russian people. Alice, above? She is legally blind. Instead of letting that keep her from drawing, she uses a magnifier to draw one small part at a time. This methodology CONTRIBUTES to her art… look at all the details that result from working so closely. Using disability as an aesthetic enhancement was a major theme in my talks. Read her story: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/alice-chen.html. 
  3. U.S./Russian relations. The Russian culture as a whole is further and further embracing disability. In the U.S., we are so privileged with what may seem like the most basic accommodations for the disabled (like wheelchair access) and cutting edge research… the Russian audiences were curious to learn more about these and adopt our lessons and experiences. But even beyond that, they wanted to learn about our music scene, our artists, our landscape. They wanted to know if I felt safe on the city streets, what I loved about St. Petersburg (the architecture… the people!), if I would do a piece inspired by my trip for them (ABSOLUTELY). Just outside the exhibit were two flags on the same stand: U.S. and Russia. I took several pictures standing in front of them. Despite all the gorgeous art in the exhibit, I think this may have been the most beautiful sight. Art speaks a universal language, and it was incredible to use it to bring our countries closer together.

On Thursday, several people told me they’d seen me on the news the night before. There was so much media coverage that Facebook even told me I needed to put my Russian name (my website won’t let me put in the Cyrillic characters) as my native name, because people were having trouble finding me. Crazy. I did another talk to curators and critics Thursday morning, and a couple of them came across town right after for my next talk, focused on disability awareness, experiences, and educational practices in America. I suppose the media coverage paid off… there were more than 60 people at that final talk: educators of the disabled and also some of their disabled students. What an incredibly rewarding conversation this was! We walked the gallery to discuss the art, talked about my experiences growing up with Tourette’s Syndrome, public vs. private education, and the benefits of new concepts in disability education (neurodiversity, neuroplasticity, differentiation… thanks Claire and Jayson for your incredible help! It really made a difference). Everyone there agreed that art was a great equalizer, putting disabled and non-disabled people in place to be taken at the same face value. I was able to share resources to help the disabled Russian artists find international exhibit opportunities. The theme of my talk: embrace what makes you unique.

Thursday night, I was so utterly exhausted that I was only able to muster up enough energy to go to the Russiain McDonalds and order a Bolshoi Mak. Friday, I came home. I am spent, but having the opportunity to raise disability and Tourette’s awareness, exhibit in one of the most gorgeous spaces I’ve ever seen, and help improve U.S./Russia relations? It shows you the power of art.

There are dozens of people I need to thank… from the curators, to the drivers, to my wonderful translator… but I want to especially thank Sonja and Tatyana for making it happen! And of course I would be remiss without thanking Volkswagen, which has been an incredible sponsor to the VSA programs.

I may not be ready to close the book on my career QUITE yet… a Polish group came to my Thursday talk and they want me to come talk about new media art and disabilities in Poland. Time to start brushing up on my Polish!

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The Church of Spilled Blood, right next to the State Russian Museum

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This is a staircase in the Hermitage. The whole museum is this gorgeous, but, you know, also has art. The collection of Impressionists was great!

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When in Rome… yes, I drank compote. Yes, it was good. The fruit gives it a delicious flavor, even though it looks a bit… unappetizing

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Past and Present Tense

September 22nd, 2013

the breeze scuttles up my arm
as she turns my hair just fine
astral thoughts colliding in my mind

The Internet long ago replaced my Saturday morning cartoons. Even as I have made an effort to focus on my art every single weekend morning, I find myself doing research and art correspondence on it while my audio and video renders finish. This past month without the Internet has led instead to a deep dive into my own file history. While quite a bit of the content is colored by nostalgia, I’ve also turned up a few parts of me buried under thousands of gigabytes of data—found poetry (above), old song demos (mostly awful), old friendships, and a bunch of field recordings. I’ve been keying a lot on those field recordings this month, incorporating various ones into audio tracks and finding a wealth of inspiration. My work carefully cutting them, EQing them, filtering them, effecting them… it’s brought me to the cusp of what I believe will finally be the music product I’ve wanted to release.

I find it fascinating that my work toward confluence of audio and video has led me to two huge projects that are based solely in a single medium—the album I described above and a series of tangible visual works. Yet I so clearly see the influence of my visual work on the album, and the influence of my audio on the visual pieces. I can’t wait to share them once they are a bit more fleshed out and hopefully ready for release early next year.

cpt

In significant news, I will be debuting my first audio/visual work with Brian Young later this week at the Media Rise Festival in DC, and then the week after at the Continuous Present Tense show at Tulsa Living Arts in Tulsa, OK.

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Full Circle: SONAR Duel Install at Boston CyberArts Gallery

June 13th, 2013

Last Fall, I showed Digital Synthetic at the inaugural show of the Boston CyberArts Gallery, COLLISION18:present. I set up directly across from audio/visual artist Nathan Boyer, who just so happened to be using SONAR for his piece, as well. Chaos ensued, resulting in us quite literally putting up a wall between our pieces so that the SONAR sensors wouldn’t interfere with each other.

It’s out of that chaos that the idea for SONAR Duel was born. Why not collaboratively build a piece that embraced the chaos of the dueling SONAR readings and created an even more immersive and interactive space for viewers?

TRULY GENERATIVE

SONAR Duel positions two TVs in a computer-generated audio/visual dialogue. SONAR sensors embedded in the televisions and connected to hidden computers converse: the SONARs’ interaction triggers coding in the computers that creates unique patterns on the screens.

On their own, the TVs “talk” to each other, moving in and out of visual and harmonic sync. But people can literally step into the conversation by standing between the two televisions. This human intervention generates human-like responses in the sonar dialogue. The screen images react with patterns, colors, and sounds that appear to reflect emotions such as happiness, agitation, and even jealousy. The interaction of the sonars with each other and with people in the space generates random coding in real time, so that audio and visual effects are dependent on the changing environment. In this way, SONAR Duel conveys the illusion of human sentience in technology.

GENESIS

Back in March, I wrote (http://willcopps.com/blog/?p=918) about the grant we received from the University of Missouri for me to travel out there and build the piece with Nathan. After a marathon multi-day coding session, we documented the prototype and applied to COLLISION19, which just by chance was wrapping up a call for submissions at the same time. We were accepted, and are therefore coming full circle, debuting the piece at the very gallery that inspired it!

SONAR Duel is a piece with many challenges. Not only is the coding extremely complex and involving several different programs, but we needed to program a PC and Mac to talk with each other, automate startup, run similar programs, and more. However, that all seems trivial in the face of actually getting the display right.

Our displays are old 13″ televisions we found on Craigslist set up on opposite sides of a room. We built the SONAR sensors and microcontrollers into the TVs (so long, audio jacks!) and ran the audio, video and USB cables out the back. Of course, computers aren’t exactly programmed to run video to old school 13″ televisions, so we had to run the video cables into video converters, and from there into the computers. Quite the process, but well worth the results.

INSTALLATION

What an installation this ended up being! I had shipped my computer to the curator’s house, and some of the pieces of the computer became disconnected. Thankfully this was an easy fix. Then we cut podiums to size and I figured out how to get my computer into one of them (standing it on its face!)… things were going pretty smoothly. That is, until…

One television blew a fuse and our backup television wouldn’t work. This led to a desperate “does anyone have a 13″ TV with RCA inputs in the Boston area? Need it tonight” Craigslist post and a search that took up a LOT of time. Thankfully we found a wonderful person named Lisa to buy one off of, and headed to her house late Saturday night to get it.

We also were missing some software and the Internet was crawling. The software download (Ableton Live 9) was set to take approximately 10 hours.

That left us with Sunday with a totally unmodified TV that we needed to drill and install SONAR in, a computer that didn’t have the right software yet, no automation done to network the computers together, and only 5 hours to finish install before I had to leave to catch my flight back to Baltimore.

(Approximately 7 hours later, from my gate at the airport) VICTORY!!! Sweet, sweet victory. Wow. We got everything installed and automated JUST in the nick of time. I’ve never had an install remotely that stressful before. Once the finish line was in sight, Nathan offered to drive me to the airport (which would grant us an additional 30 minutes), but his car died, so while he got it jumped I documented the piece with hundreds of pictures and videos in a matter of about 15 minutes. I was even my own video model! Haha. We then fixed the very final error in the automated boot sequence and took off for the airport, only to run into Red Sox game traffic. AHH! Talk about stressful. Thankfully my plane gate was C40, which essentially has its own security line. I got through security in 3 minutes and was good to go.

COLLISION19 opens Friday. A special thanks to Bill Tremblay of the COLLISION Collective for his helping hand!

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Almagest Series: Technical Nightmare

May 19th, 2013

Note from the editor (that’s me): Sorry I’m a week late on this, but I got another show (which I’ll be announcing soon!) and got some additional big news to share soon…

Every piece I do, it seems, is its own technical challenge. The Almagest Series was no different. You’d probably think to yourself “this is just like a DVD… no SONAR or infrared or anything… no risk of computers crashing… should be so easy, right?” Nope. The following is, sadly, probably the LEAST technical problems I’ve dealt with on something… gives you an idea of how difficult these things can be.

The challenge with this one was capturing the high-def video. My computer is great at generating the video itself, but trying to capture the video WHILE generating it? No way. Too jerky. I did TONS of experiments… filming my own TV, looking into using another computer to record the output, etc etc… until I found this beautiful baby: HyperDeck Shuttle 2 Designed for uncompressed video capture from DSLR cameras, I instead decided to use it for uncompressed (or close to it) capture straight from my computer.

A ton of research later, I had dropped the $300ish I needed for it, $250 on a compatible solid state hard drive, and $50 on a solid state drive reader to import the files to the computer. A good investment, because I’m probably going to be using it a lot! Finally they arrived and I turned everything on… went to plug in the USB cable into the HyperDeck… nothing. 6 hours of updating firmware/etc later, I realized that the USB port wasn’t properly attached inside the HyperDeck. Back in the mail.

A week later, another HyperDeck. Finally ready to go. Plug it in… nothing. Update the firmware. Bingo! Everything’s… GREEN? More research. Change out my videocard. Change the video color settings. Bingo!!! (YUV vs RGB, if you are ever curious). Ready to go.

I set up my BCF2000 and mapped the faders and knobs to my video controls to record the video and manipulations live. I had long ago mapped out the narrative arc of the piece and was ready to go… recorded everything perfectly in a wonderful high-res codec. Finally I could import the files into Adobe Premiere… oh wait, no I can’t. Premiere Pro CS5 doesn’t support that codec… you need Premiere Pro CS6. Another $300… but wait, they are about to announce the new version of Premiere Pro! Download the demo of CS6, work in the demo for a month, wait for the CS 6.5 or CS7 announcement after my demo expires. Then Adobe announces they are discontinuing the CS series and I will need to pay $50 a month to subscribe to the new version of the software… CS6 disappears, and I can no longer buy it. NOOOOOO!!!! Call Adobe, spend a long time on the phone, finally get the privilege to spend $300 just for a codec incompatibility issue. Am oddly happy about this. Then I finally am able to get to work.

Next week: The Creative Process!

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New Series to Debut at State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg

May 11th, 2013

For those wondering what I’ve been up to, well, a lot of things, but I am pressing very hard to finish a new series of works that will debut this September at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. It’s so incredible to have an opportunity to not only share the museum with works like Brullov’s The Last Day of Pompeii and Malevich’s Black Circle, but I get to debut entirely new work there.

As you can imagine, I am not taking this incredible opportunity lightly, and for months have been hard at work on a new series of works that I have titled The Almagest Series. The Almagest Series is twelve separate (but related) audio/visual paintings. Whereas much of my previous work was about viewer interactivity, these video paintings are my own, crafted in my studio from generative visuals. The visuals and audio are crafted over a specific story arc and follow my own narrative. The delicate balance that these videos show between video paintings and blurry, almost-nebulous movement inspired me to name the series after the treatise on movement of planets and stars.

I will have several posts on my website about creating the series:

Monday, 13 May: How I embraced and conquered the technological challenges of creating the piece

Monday, 20 May: Details on my creative process for the series and incorporating chordal textures from musician Brian Young

Monday, 27 May: A quick preview of the piece for all to see

Looking forward to sharing this with all of you!

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Duel of the Tiger (University of Missouri Grant/Trip)

March 31st, 2013

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My workspace… I spent a lot of time here!

This past week I had the incredible opportunity to go to the University of Missouri on a grant to collaborate with artist Nathan Boyer on a new project. Nathan and I met in Boston last Fall when we both showed up at the Boston CyberArts Gallery with audio/visual pieces based around SONAR readings… and of course set up right across from each other, messing up each other’s pieces (quick aside: for those who don’t know how SONAR works, it sends out a pulse and waits for it to return, using the timing to calculate distance. Well, both our pieces were pulsing on the same frequency at different rates, so they were causing a pseduo-moire pattern of readings and messing things up). We spent the next few hours putting a wall between our two pieces and talking about what we could do together by embracing the chaos caused by the dueling SONARs/computers.

A quick proposal and grant from the University of Missouri, and next thing you know I’m in Columbia testing it out.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Collision18: DRIVE, Install, and Opening

November 11th, 2012

So, yes, I decided to drive to Boston for my latest show. And, yes, that is a really, REALLY long drive. Especially when facing a ridiculous Nor’easter, snow, and crazy gas restrictions.

But it was absolutely worth it.

Collision18 was put on at the Boston CyberArts gallery by the MIT-born CollisionCollective. And man, they were one awesome group of people! Everyone involved with the show was so intelligent and inspiring… I couldn’t imagine a better group.

This was my first show with the computer in the ceiling… pretty nervewracking, because once you close the ceiling up, you are done making adjustments! It was also nervewracking just because I had to spend a good portion of the day in a flimsy ceiling.


That’s where my computer is now…

This show was also a challenge because I was set up across from an artist (the very cool Nathan Boyer… nathanboyer.net) who was also using SONAR. What are the chances? We were setting up fake walls for a long time to keep our sensors from interfering with each other.


Opening night

This was also a unique experience because I got to help do the gallery lighting… you never think about how much work goes into just the lighting until you are doing it… bulb types, placement, faulty tracks, blown bulbs, reflections, shadows…sheesh!


Me with my piece

The show runs until December 15. Gallery hours and info can be found at http://bostoncyberarts.org/

A big thank you to Christine and her roommates for letting me stay at their place in Cambridge!

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Digital Synthetic at Boston Cyberarts Gallery, Nov 10-Dec 8

October 28th, 2012

Excited to announce that Digital Synthetic will be shown at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery from Nov 10-Dec 8 as part of “COLLISION18:Present”

COLLISIONcollective came out of MIT, focused on the intersection of art and technology… this should be an awesome time. Hope to see you at the opening reception from 6-9 on Nov 9!

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“The Passenger Car” to Debut at Doris-Mae Art Gallery

September 7th, 2012

My newest video piece and “video painting,” “The Passenger Car” is set to premiere on Sept 15 from 6-9 p.m. at the Doris-Mae Art Gallery in DC. Not only am I excited about the piece and how it works with the space—the other artists in the show are incredible. I’m honored and excited to be a part of the show.

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