Thursday, June 23, 2005

Arty Party

I've just added a few photographs from last night's private view at the Margaret Street Art School in Birmingham to my Flickr stream. The consensus after the show (at least with those I asked) was that while the work itself was overall no better or worse than in previous years there's a feeling that the whole model for a show of student Fine Art work is running out of steam. Is it possible that what became true for us running Multimedia Design a few years ago is now becoming true for other disciplines? This year's Graphic Design showing seemed to reject the notion of individual student spaces, and it seemed a very out-of-date approach for Fine Art too. It may be that much of contemporaneous student work deals with similar issues ('this year's meme'?) and that there are common points of reference in form too. This year video imagery featured heavily: LCD screens, projections, pixels adorned the most unlikely pieces. These similarities contrast the strict serialisation of individuals' displays, and make a thematic structuring difficult; at odds with media-based arrangement. Perhaps it's time for undergraduate Artists to begin collaborating more fully, locating work appropriately, and for the department to begin treating the show as a starting point for and a representational sample of the sort of critical and practical debate that's at work within their institution. The old way of doing things doesn't seem to offer much in the way of exciting future possibility, nor much of an incentive for excited young individuals to join us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Day Out

Spent yesterday out of the office at Birmingham University for the first Birmingham School of Computer Science Apple Day. Essentially a bunch of Phd students there have decided to evangelise the Mac platform within their primarily Lintel/Wintel environment, and they'd persuaded the manager and a few geniuses (and no, the plural in this sense is not genii) from the Apple Store Bullring to come along, answer questions, and support the day. Turnout wasn't too bad considering the zero-publicity levels, and there was a fair bit of interesting debate. Best part of the day by far was Robert Goldsmith's Xcode session where he stripped an 80-line currency converter program down to about 25 lines while adding significant functionality. I've seen Apple presentations on using things like Shark, but this was the best intro to object coding models and the practical use of Xcode I've ever seen. Robert's definitely a guy to watch.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Last Chance to See

So on the same day that US Target stores announce what amounts to a gradual phasing out of VHS movies, Kodak pre-announces the end of Black & White photographic paper production. Mike, who's knowledgable in such things, tells me that few photographers in his acquaintance are Kodak paper users, and the whole thing says more about the economics of selling something based on silver than on the death of traditional printing. After all, Kodak also announced they're pulling out of Digital SLR production. Over time though it's a dead cert that regular photo paper (and film for that matter) will become the preserve of a specialist few, with the materials sourced from (expensive) niche producers. This doesn't mean it's going away entirely, any more than letterpress printing has disappeared completely, but it starts to look more and more like a fine-art/craft than a genuine medium, and the decision to continue teaching it in art schools has to be considered in that light. We certainly couldn't make a case for mass education in hand-lettering anymore either, no matter what Steve Jobs owes to his Calligraphy teacher.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Adventures in Sound

The VRU is assisting Birmingham Conservatoire in staging Luca Francesconi's "Lips, Eyes, Bang", which features live and pre-recorded performances and interactive video. We're specifically working on getting some iSight cameras around the space streaming into Max/MSP/Jitter for performer feedback and live video processing. Some of the stuff looks like old pop videos (largely reminiscent of the cromakeying in the 'Ashes to Ashes' promo). Greg remarks that the thing about new technology is that it generally reminds you of old technology, and he has a point, though I think that's more to do with the observer rather than the technology itself. As usual, we've got some cruder (ie. more reliable) solutions on hand for the camera feed, and that's what we go for in the end; the streaming solution seems like overkill, though we'll definitely use it in the future. Right now the important thing is to have the performer see herself in both untreated and treated form ('Before' and 'After'), and Max/MSP seems to allow us to do that in no time at all. It's back on our list of software purchases for the VRU (it's been on and off it at least twice now as our specs change), which gives us a neat complement to our expanding set of midi input/processing components. I'd like to see this stuff using Core Video in Tiger, especially as Qurtz Composer has a MIDI input module. That's another experiment though, for another time.

Showing Off

Today's the day of the student shows at the Art & Design Institute, and it already feels odd being less involved than in previous years (that's to say hardly involved at all) since for the previous 4-5 years the graduate shows for multimedia dominated my waking hours each June. Some thoughts though:
  • There's a definite shift this year towards the approach that we pioneered in Multimedia Design: more selection, less free-for-all, less work on walls and more variety of presentation (screens, projections, video, interactive displays).
  • The 'experience' approach has spread from the 2 small rooms we used to occupy to a larger portion of the show floor. There's a drama to the layout and use of spaces like the large photo studio (check my Flickr stream) and the flow from one space to another (largely due to the persistence of my friend and colleague David Osbaldestin, who's managed this year's show, but yeah we advised a bit too). This was notably lacking in the previous years' 'mish-mash of student displays.
  • If there's an sense in which putting a show together should be treated like retail design, it's only because good retail understands how the visitor experience plays out over time and space. In this sense it's pure theatre, and nothing that retail can claim to have invented.
  • Selectiveness isn't the same as selection, and while a curated show is appealing for a host of reasons it's also a mistake to think of ourselves as professional selectors in a design competition. I won't mention the phone calls that some lecturers have been getting from irate parents that think their kid's work should be the main feature.