Yale Bulletin
and Calendar

March 22-29, 1999Volume 27, Number 25

Lecture series will explore role of
technology in today's culture

A new lecture series debuting at Yale this spring will feature artists who use cutting-edge technologies such as virtual reality and interactive video for the express purpose of commenting on the role of technology in today's culture.

The series is called "...With Technological Means: Artists, Theorists and Curators Working in New Media," and is sponsored by the Digital Media Center for the Arts (DMCA), a new state-of-the-art Yale facility that seeks to promote interdisciplinary collaborations in the arts using digital media.

The first lecturer will be Natalie Jeremijenko, a visiting lecturer in engineering at Yale who has been described by The New York Times as "one of the most provocative artists of the decade" due to her work in "tangible media."

Her talk, "With Technological Means," will be presented at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 23, in Hastings Hall of the Art & Architecture Building, 180 York St. The lecture, like all the offerings in the series, is free and open to the public.

"Technology is often seen as something that is neutral, something that developed outside the culture of a society," says Jeremijenko, who organized the DMCA lecture series. "But the development of new technologies is usually the result of a particular historical moment. Technology is inherently and entirely sociocultural.

"Most of the speakers in this series understand technology to be historically oriented," she adds, "and most take a critical view of how technology is used in our culture."

Jeremijenko is a design engineer who is interested in the sociotechnical aspects of product design -- that is, in how product innovations are generated. In fact, at Yale, she has worked extensively to help build the engineering department's design studio.

The engineer, who is pursuing her Ph.D. at Stanford University, has also put her scientific skills to use in the creation of artistic projects that take such abstracts as "information" and give them physical form.

For instance, her project "Livewire" is a "3-D, real-time Internet traffic indicator" that offers viewers tangible proof of how many people are using the local area network. The installation consists of a wire that hangs from the ceiling and is programmed to move in response to the amount of data being exchanged across the local ethernet system -- the busier the network is, the more the wire wiggles.

Jeremijenko's colleagues in the Computer Science Lab of Xerox PARC, where the device was first created, are big fans of this project, she says, because they can simply point to the shimmying wire whenever anyone asks why the network is so slow.

Another of her projects, "Trigger the Loma Prieta Pony," takes the concept of the bucking bronco "kiddy ride" to a new level -- only the ride on this machine replicates the ground motion of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.

"A lot of my work is about the materiality of information," says Jeremijenko, who recently won a Rockefeller Fellowship. "Information is understood to be immaterial -- without physical substance. In my work, I look at ways that information and technology can be seen to be materially active, not just 'out there' in the tradition of cyberspace."

Jeremijenko has also designed several projects for The Bureau of Inverse Technology, one of several new artistic cooperatives that purposely emulate the "product persona of technology."

"You can't really say who invented the atomic bomb or who built Yahoo! or Microsoft, for example, because it was a group of people with no individual accountability," she explains. "In order to promote alternative means of technology, these groups have produced a bureaucracy in which no one person is accountable for the end result."

Jeremijenko was "just the engineer" for the bureau's project to create a visual record of the suicides at San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge over a 100-day period. The motion detection video system that Jeremijenko designed was programmed to record four seconds of film whenever the camera sensed a vertical motion. The camera, which was set at a distance without the knowledge of bridge authorities, captured 17 suicides within the 100 days. Jeremijenko later used the data to develop a "Despondency Index," a take-off on the Dow-Jones Index.

The "Suicide Box" project "looked at how most surveillance cameras are deployed," explains Jeremijenko. "Surveillance technology is most often used to protect property and valuables, but there are no cameras on the Golden Gate Bridge. There is a tragic social phenomenon going on there, but each suicide is being treated as an isolated incident. The absence of surveillance cameras on the bridge is a reflection of what is taken to be valuable in our culture."

Not all of Jeremijenko's projects are quite so serious. When the engineer competed to create a parking lot/multi-use surface for the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, she designed a computer system that scanned the color of incoming vehicles and used that information to determine where the cars should be parked in order to create colorful patterns across the lot. "It would turn the mundane act of parking your car into a public spectacle," says Jeremijenko, noting that she had fun designing the project as well.

Also speaking ...

The series "...With Technological Means" will also feature the following speakers. All the events will be held on Tuesdays at the time and location listed above:

March 30 -- "Critical Vehicles" by Kryzsztof Wodiczko, who has employed a variety of interactive sculptural, design, photographic and video elements in his work, which addresses such issues as militarism, xenophobia, urban violence, domestic abuse and homelessness.

April 6 -- "Unexpected Obstacles" by Perry Hoberman, an installation and performance artist who has been called one of the foremost media artists in the country for his work in the media of virtual reality.

April 13 -- "21st-Century Investing Strategies" by members of RTMark (or, more formally ®TMark), a group that supports the "informative alteration of corporate products" by using public capital to support such projects as the Barbie Liberation Organization.

April 20 -- "In the Ocean of Streams of Story" by Grahame Weinbren, a filmmaker who creates "interactive cinema" installations for museums, galleries and festivals around the world.

April 27 -- "From Here On," a panel discussion featuring such renowned curators, theorists and artists as Neil Seiling, Tim Druckrey, Barbara London, Rachel Green and Aaron Betsky.

For further information contact natalie.jeremijenko@yale.edu or see www.yale.edu/dmca/.

-- By LuAnn Bishop


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