Blog Post

CHAT Festival Reflections - Student Project Exhibition, Interdisciplinarity, and Collaboration

As the word gets out about the various wonderful activities,exhibits, and conversations that happened at CHAT, I'd like to highlight the Student Project Exhibition, which I organized in collaboration with Will Bosley and Joyce Rudinsky at UNC, and Pat Fitzgerald at NC State. This exhibit was exciting because it showed the array of work being done by our students at our three campuses - undergrad and grad. Some of it was critical, some of it creative -- and most of it a mixture of both, crossing all kinds of boundaries between analog and digital, art and science, pragmatic and conceptual, historical and contemporary. This, I believe, is forecasting the future of interdisciplinarity mediated by technology - multiple subject-area experts who are also technologists working together in pursuit of a problem or idea.  We had students creating a movie in collaboration with screenwriters, a playwright, and actors. We had a database-driven interactive animation, historical reconstructions of medieval churches and monasteries, a creative performance film exploring cultural theory, an educational flash tool, a hypermedia meditation of new forms of textuality, a subversive "product" launch, and a whole array of animated short films and illustrations. What they have in common is an engagement with the affordances digital media offer for new forms of expression and communication, not in isolation, but in continuation, dialog, and/or challenge to other forms.


The other thing that was striking to me, in accordance with the CHAT theme, was the extent to which this digital media work is inherently collaborative, from conception to long-term dissemination. This collaboration isn't just about teamwork, or even interdisciplinarity, though those surely help. It is about process, distribution, and the underying infrastructures that need to be in place for such work to be possible. Even the individually produced pieces bore relationships to each other through the inspired leadership of their instructors, who in some cases were more "lab leaders" on a joint research project than traditional educators. Not surprisingly, most of these projects were scaffolded, one way or another, by not only by participation in the university setting or use of existing toolsets and procedures, but also by the material and social conditions that allowed them to operate directly in conjunction with critical and historical perspectives as well as with digital media and technology tools. Showing and archiving the work reveals a whole 'nother layer of complexity that we're only beginning to grapple with on a broad scale.

Finally, a note on my experience as a collaborator on the Psychasthenia project we showed at CHAT. It is a game-engine driven project for the RENCI dome led by Joyce Rudinsky in the UNC Dept of Communications, with Mark Robinson from Communications, and Jason Coposky, and Eric Knisley from RENCI. The five of us worked together on a project we call an artwork, but which was also a game, an immersive experience, a sensor-based installation, a performance, a psychological diagnostic engine (albeit tongue in cheek), a meditation on mental health treatment modalities, and an exploration the history of psychological categorization and treatment theories. Each of us would probably characterize the elephant differently, based on our own backgrounds -- but we all had a working idea "elephant" in our heads, that was similar enough to enable conversation, and different enough to spark new ideas. The five of us, led by Joyce, conceived the piece, modeled objects and spaces, created imagery, mashed up other images and models, wrote and adapted diagnostic texts, designed interactive experiences - and iterated endlessly (or so it seemed at times). Most parts had someone doing most of it, but every part bore the stamp of somebody else's ideas too. This seems to me to be the best type of interdisciplinary collaboration - expertise for depth; cross-communication for breadth, all around a common idea that in itself gets refined in the process of creation. 

This kind of complex digital media authorship is coming to a classroom, an honors thesis, a research project, and an APT-review near you. We've seen the future of higher education in the basement of the Johnston Center at Memorial Hall, and in the various exhibition venues around UNC-CH's lovely campus, as well as in the panels, SoundBytes, keynotes, and other experiences. How will we handle it? 



1 comment

Hello Prof Szabo! I just joined HASTAC via Prof Cathy Davidson's class and am glad to see you here! :) I'll be posting about my experience at CHAT soon... see you in class!