My post is inspired by a panel I attended this week at the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center, CUNY called “Can the Subaltern Speak? Reflections on the History of an Idea.” Updating thoughts on Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak‘s seminal essay, first delivered at the Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture Conference back in 1983. It was a touching presentation and everyone on the sizable panel had personal and theoretical insights to share. Participants included (from the announcement) – Meena Alexander (English, Hunter College & The Graduate Center, CUNY); Judith Butler (Rhetoric, University of California Berkeley); Patricia Clough (Sociology, Women’s Studies, Intercultural Studies, Queens College & The Graduate Center, CUNY); Drucilla Cornell (Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey); Rosalind Morris (Anthropology, Columbia University) and Robert Young (English, Comparative Literature, New York University). The panel was moderated by Kyoo Lee (Philosophy, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY).
The auditorium holding the panel was completely full. Then, the overflow of attendees still filled up three additional instructional rooms. I’m now very compelled to returning to the essay, with the accompaniment of Morris’s anthology — for which the panel was named and held.
I was reminded of this song during the Grammys tonight upon hearing that Teddy Pendergrass has passed away.
When listening, it’s helpful to remember Alexander Weheliye‘s elegant description of the song. On the topic of intros, he writes:
My all-time favorite in this category is Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “Wake Up Everybody,” which gently burrows into the tympanum with its harp swooshes, a tambourine, and two different piano motifs, to then guide us into the pièce de resistance: a very subtle bass solo that never reappears in the duration of this 7:33-minute masterpiece. (2005:1)
So, return the play head to its start, and repeat…
Early in the twentieth century, cinema was quite alive and at home in downtown’s spaces, to this day its theaters’ marquees still light the city’s streets. Cinema’s theaters still line Broadway between Third Street and Olympic Boulevard and now comprise the city’s Historic Theater District. And though marquee bulbs still flicker and neon still shines on Broadway, they no longer signify newsreels, performances or even second-run late-night cinema features. The vibrant screens that once displayed projections of the American imagination now remain silent and blank (if they remain standing at all), housed in abandoned or converted real estate.
In the Fall of 2007, my semester’s final projects were explorations of Downtown LA’s geography, specifically focusing on this major thoroughfare of Broadway. Through these projects I experimented with forms that were new to me – cultural geography, animation (via AfterEffects), Google Earth, and the photo essay. My explorations of Broadway were most interested in the opportunities the location allowed for exploring melancholy, affect, and death through physical and lived spaces, in its converted movie houses, consumerism desired new devices and found different demographics. This sense of convergence culture displaces the elitist consumer as the vanguard of globalization, as written in my photo essay for Anne Friedberg’s “Convergence and Medium Specificity” class:
As the Hollywood industry once gave psychical power to the cinema as a signifier of glamour, consumer electronics communicate high technology and advancing modernity in Gomez-Peña’s description of his family’s investments in buying electronics. As Gomez-Peña states their function was as much pragmatic as it was social, ritual, sentimental, symbolic, and aesthetic. The display of this function is obvious on a Sunday afternoon stroll through Broadway. It is a convergence not only of times and entertainment mediums, but also of the conceived notion of Los Angeles and the lived reality of Los Angeles’ dreams of Hollywood, technological progress all delivered through global networks of commerce serving a transnational demographic.
An animated video in-progress that explores Broadway, completed in Mike Patterson’s Experimental Animation class (CTAN 495a, Fall 2007):
Meet the Middletons (aka The Middletons Break Loose) is an interactive, multiplayer storytelling game. During the game, players collectively build a story. At their turn, a player selects a small movie clip and word, the word is accompanied by a soundtrack; with these audio-visual assets, the player contributes her own unique unit of the story, while reciting contributions from the other players that preceded their own part of the story. For this prototype, the experimental tale focused on an American family attending the New York’s World Fair in 1939. The game was a collaborative final project created by Lauren Fenton, Susana Ruiz, and myself – it was designed for Tracy Fullerton’s Design for Interactive Media course (CTIN 541). The game explores group play, narrative and interactive storytelling. Team: Lauren Fenton, Veronica Paredes, Susana Ruiz, Hidefumi Yasuda and Sean Bouchard
Click to play game This game requires a group to play with and a willingness to tell a story!
Although this iteration of the game featured specific material, particularly a drama from the Prelinger Archives called The Middleton Family at the New York’s World Fair, the system was created to re-imagine any narrative. Ultimately, the project developed from the team’s agreed-upon design challenge to create a game that was engaged with complex ideas and concepts, without being impenetrable; it was important that the game was fun and playable.
The project was inspired by the work of Michel de Certeau; very early iterations of the game had players “play” de Certeau’s theories of the everyday. In attempting to visualize these theories, we experimented with the combination of free play, narrative, and a simple game mechanic. Barbie imagery was used for a paper prototype, but we switched to found moving media after the project moved into digital space. Below is a screenshot of a transition digital prototype using Barbie imagery, and even further down a photo from the playtest of the paper prototype.
Barbie was an appropriate toy mythology for a paper prototype, one primarily played by physical means – with one’s hands, written words, and printed cards – but did not translate to a digital prototype. The Barbie photographs (credited in the sources section) did not achieve the same level of flexibility in digital form as they did in paper form (shown on the left). With paper, players weaved a story of political intrigue, female empowerment and compromised liberation (Barbie kept getting married!). On the computer screen, posed Barbie lost her dynamism in the players’ imaginations.
From this project, I learned a great deal about the relation between theories of design and practices of design. The importance of iteration, usability and user-centered design still influence my methods of project design, in teaching and in my own work. The system of Meet the Middletons is simple in its construction and mechanic, yet the complexity of each play session is contingent on its players and the materials played – here The Middletons are used, but the hope is that other materials could just as easily wield wildly different stories and scenarios.
CUERPO Y LUZ is a cinematic / immersive/ interactive dance installation that incorporates high-definition video production, music composition, choreography and interactivity to explore ruptures in femininity, movement, identity and performance. CUERPO Y LUZ was a collaborative project between Interactive Media (IMD) alumna, Andrea Rodriguez, created in Mike Patterson’s Experimental Animation course (CTIN 495). The piece used the exhibition space of the 14-screened Zemeckis Media Lab to provide players with a different kind of audio-visual experience. Questioning the comfortable consumption of female bodies in visual technologies, the piece incited uneasiness in its viewers/ users, coupling experimental, enigmatic dance movements with imagery of performed elegance and grace. Our ultimate goal was to have our audience members, young and old, experience new movement through the vividly personal, yet public, space of the interactive installation.
The project was an experience designed for audiences to enjoy as a choreointeractive installation, an intersection of choreography and interactivity that allows for the audience to move through with an awareness and perception to understand their movement through the use of multiple screens. Movement in the installation is propelled by the audience’s reflected participation – using surveillance cameras and visual effects/ programming software (Max/MSP/Jitter), live footage of the participants is abstracted and displayed; the audience perceives its own movement, but in an altered form.
After a public exhibition of the piece, we began to broaden our questions, the motivation to create projects and strengthen collaborative networks engaged with the intersections of gender, sexuality, age, ethnicity, technology, and interaction design continues to drive both of our careers. The project received a research grant from the 2008-2009 New Directions in Feminist Scholarship Seminar, which was led by English Professor Alice Gambrell and addressed the theme of “Mediated Identities.” The questions that animate CUERPO Y LUZ, along with the learned importance of strong collaborative relationships, continue to deeply influence and shape my current research.
Ellie Greenwich passed away this week at the age of 68. Greenwich was an American pop songwriter and record producer, best known for her songs co-written with ex-husband, Jeff Barry. Greenwich worked with Phil Spector, the Ronettes, The Crystals, Connie Francis, Leslie Gore, The Beach Boys, The Shangri-Las, Ike and Tina Turner, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Neil Diamond, Cyndi Lauper, and many more. She earned 25 gold and platinum records. Below is a clip from my favorite. My heart is still overwhelmed every time I hear the part in “Be My Baby” when it draws close to the song’s conclusion, and suddenly it all drops to a beat for a moment… and then continues on to its bittersweet end.