Blog Post

Finding the words as we create the worlds – Reflections on iMappening 2012

by Micha Cárdenas

The name iMappening is quite a mouthful, and that’s the point. The name reflects the complexity of what USC’s interdivisional Media Arts and Practice (iMAP) program does. The program combines theory and practice, so the annual showcase is more than an exhibition and more than a symposium. Inspired by the Happenings of the artist Alan Kaprow, which sought to blur the lines between art and life, artist and audience, performance and witness, the iMappening events are a demonstration of the many ways that our work exceeds traditional boundaries.

Attendees to iMappening could walk up a staircase and see their bodies rendered as a real-time stereoscopic 3-d homage to a cubist painting by Marcel Duchamp in Clea T. Waite’s piece v descending. Duchamp is another important reference for iMAP because after his fountain sculpture the move to conceptual and post-conceptual art means that new media artists are increasingly expected to not only create a new work of art, but to invent a whole new genre of art. Instead of being expected to create a better sculpture, new media artists often have to invent a whole genre like sculpture. Interactive architecture, mixed reality performance, and database cinema are just a few examples of these new genres.

Visitors were able to engage in a number of participatory projects. They could use their whole bodies to navigate a virtual world with dynamically generated poetry in Todd Furmanski’s installation, or play a card game based on Apples to Apples designed to educate players about feminism by Susana Ruiz. Attendees could walk on a pink fuzzy rug and sit in translucent squishy chairs to watch Lauren Fenton’s design fiction video of her upcoming experience design project Polyangylene. Or, they could play the award winning game The Hold, a collaborative project led by iMAP student Adam Liszkiewicz.

Another option at iMappening was to take in rich media. Audience members could watch Rosemary Comella’s three channel video Garin Park. Alternatively, they could watch excerpts from the film MARRA by Jeanne Jo or listen to poetry that dancers in wearable electronic outfits moved to in (my) Micha Cárdenas’, video Local Autonomy Networks: Find Each Other.

Approaches in our program include ones which are interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, transversal and anti-disciplinary, spanning a range of fields including media studies, cinema studies, performance studies, gender and sexuality studies, queer theory, Middle East studies, ethnography, digital humanities, and media archaeology, many of which are themselves interdisciplinary formations. These approaches were on display at iMappening in the form of multi-modal media rich practices, practice based research and theoretically informed art practices including critical design, design fiction, alternate reality games, performance with wearable electronics, database narratives, interactive sculptures, embodied games, computer games, serious games, queer cinema, data visualization and a live performance by VJ Um Amel. Clearly, this was no ordinary art exhibit.

In addition to the exhibition that housed all of these media works, the Media Arts and Practice program held a day long series of panels. These panels presented the rich research being done in iMAP including my performance of Femme Disturbance considering the intersections of transgender and disability through femme affect, Veronica Paredes' work on abandoned movie theaters in Los Angeles and the future of cinema, Kristy Kang’s work on multi-modal scholarship on Koreatown and transnational forms of storytelling, Lauren Fenton’s research into experience design, and Diego Costa’s work on queering psychoanalysis.

iMappening 2012 was held at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on May 9-11th. Playing host to visitors from the public, from within the school and invited critics, the event served as a rich demonstration of the work of USC’s Media Arts and Practice Program, which in turn is a model for emerging theory/practice programs around the country. The complexity of what is being done in iMAP and showcased at iMappening reflects the emerging state of these programs, creating entirely new modes of producing knowledge at the intersections of art, technology and science. In attempting to create new models of scholarship, design and media making, find words for our practice with the existing languages of academia and entertainment can be a challenge. I left the event inspired, both by the institutional commitment by USC on display in the event and by the amazing work being done by my peers in our program.

Read more about iMappening 2012 here.

See more photos on Flickr from Sklathill.

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