Opening up to a Digital Space of Emergence in Art Pedagogy

FALL 2011: V.07 N.02: CAA Conference Edition 2011

 
Heidi May
Emily Carr University of Art and Design

Jody Baker
Emily Carr University of Art and Design

Contemporary art practices share conceptual overlaps with current discussions about pedagogy, particularly those that encourage interactive and collaborative methods of cultural production. For instance, network(ed) art consists of multiple connections made through generative processes, often, but not always, incorporating digital technology. Network art practices, sometimes defined as participatory works, are arguably not based on art objects or digital instruments, but rather the relationships and processes that occur between individuals. [1] Similarly, complexity theory in education embraces a multilinear experience of learning in which teaching and learning are described as moving away from the concept of one individual passing established knowledge on to another, to the concept of collectives elaborating emergent knowledge. [2] If we are to understand teaching and learning as an experience that occurs in a “space of emergence,” then we can understand it as a temporal epistemology, as opposed to a theory of knowledge based on fixed and static models. Similar to these common principles shared between network art and complex pedagogy, today’s open-source culture consists of decentralized and multilinear processes of exchange that both challenge the role of the author and encourage creative exploration, and thus allow for new understandings to emerge.

In this paper we argue that open-source culture can be incorporated into a curriculum which can be understood as performative-based rather than representational – a temporal epistemology centered on critical inquiry of media, and an ongoing discovery of creative ways of interacting with and understanding social experience. This paper addresses the following topics: the theory of emergent knowledge in relation to pedagogy, how emergent knowledge connects to open-source culture and current remix practices, the integration of open-source culture into art and media curriculum, and some anticipated outcomes of restructuring the classroom to an open space of learning. In thinking about these ideas, we reflect upon previous online teaching experiences as we develop a pedagogical approach for a course examining remix culture.

Relational Exchange: A Space of Emergent Knowledge
“Only by wrestling with the conditions of the problem at first hand, seeking and finding his own way out, does he think. In such shared activity, the teacher is a learner, and the learner is, without knowing it, a teacher…” [3]

“The epistemology of emergence therefore calls for a switch in focus for curricular thinking, away from questions about presentation and representation and towards questions about engagement and response.” [4]

Learning is facilitated through an open communication process, one that encourages discovery of meaning within ideas, objects and experiences. The traditional classroom environment, consisting of a hierarchical social architecture of teacher vs. students, does not always allow for an open communication process to occur. According to understandings of complexity theory in education, learning is not a cause and effect relationship between a teacher and student but rather one part of a decentralized and complex system in which the act of learning is dependent process rather than product. Decentralized approaches to teaching are most appropriate for learning situations in which there exists more than one response to a topic. With more than one interpretive possibility, both physical and, more importantly, epistemological structures need to be in place for ideas to stumble across one. [5] Similar to the processes which make up much contemporary network art, experiences of collaboration and relational exchange are more significant than the objects produced.

These decentralized, or constructivist, approaches to teaching can often allow for a rhizomatic flow of emerging knowledge within a dialogical space of teaching and learning. This kind of aesthetic classroom experience, or dialogical space, has been written about by various curriculum theorists, albeit each defining the phenomenon with different language to describe its intangible qualities. Renowned curriculum theorist Ted Aoki wrote about the “live(d) curriculum” as something in opposition to planned curriculum and explained his concepts by using a visual illustration (Figure 1) of what he termed the “rhizomean curricular landscape.” [6] Aoki suggests that the rhizomean landscape signifies the multiplicity of curricula that occur in the learning space and the relationships that happen between the forms that represent the teacher and students – the exchanges of communication. He draws attention to the term “multiplicity,” but not as a noun, since within multiplicity it is not the elements that matter but the relationships between them. Aoki made a plea to art educators, in particular, to offer inspiration and leadership in creating a “new landscape,” one that was not reliant on planned curriculum but instead allowed participants to explore a “curriculum-as-lived experience.” [7]

Rhizomean Curricular Landscape, 2011, Heidi May (digital illustration in reference to original diagram in Aoki, 2005).

Rhizomean Curricular Landscape, 2011, Heidi May (digital illustration in reference to original diagram in Aoki, 2005).

As we develop curriculum for a team taught studio/theory remix culture course that combines open-source media with critical inquiry, we respond to Aoki’s appeal while considering ideas that have emanated from complexity theory. In a time when the remix has become so ubiquitous that it’s now “the default mode of any expression, rather than a deliberate critical strategy,” [8] how might we pedagogically instigate a curricular ‘landscape’ that integrates critical and self-reflexive methods in response to current digital culture? How can we help to shape an emergent space of teaching and learning?

As was mentioned above, the notion of emergent knowledge has been extended beyond complexity theory and applied to an understanding of knowledge termed temporal epistemology. The authors of “From Representation to Emergence” define it as a quest for knowledge that is not based on developing, “…more accurate understandings of a finished reality, as it is. Rather, the question for knowledge is about finding more and more complex and creative ways of interacting with our reality.” [9] This quest is aligned with an overall understanding of knowledge being something to locate oneself within, rather than something that already exists which we attempt to acquire. In today’s network culture, where the artist as aggregator increasingly replaces the artist as producer [10], we argue for a pedagogy that embraces a temporal epistemology – an ongoing dialogue with processes, relations and exchange.

Shifting Pedagogy: Collective Inquiry With/in a Shared Digital Culture

“Any system of education is a political way of maintaining or modifying the appropriation of discourses, along with the knowledges and powers which they carry.” [11]

“…the new media advent has extended our potential to such an extent that we remix continuously, even when we are not aware of it. New media force us to do a continuous “cut and paste” of the endless digital data surrounding us. Thus, we can assume that remixing is the composition method of our times.” [12]

One of the things a shared digital culture offers is access to a range of subject positions defined by refusal, irony, evasion, inversion and ideological resistance – modalities that are an important part of contemporary students’ cultural experiences. More importantly, we are witness to an unprecedented shift toward a self-reflexive culture: we see it on TV with programs like South Park and the Daily Show, within hyper-critical blog culture and through the dynamic culture of YouTube. Remix practices, the mashup and an open-sourced culture in general point the way toward a critical pedagogy that is engaged with these critical culture(s) of everyday life. This is not to set one as anterior to the other; the idea is to break down the distinctions among education, art and life. Teaching online offers a unique opportunity to embed pedagogy in an environment that is open, collaborative and plastic, while at the same time comfortable and familiar to contemporary students whose habitus spans YouTube, Facebook and BitTorrent. The point is to create an open-source, collaborative workspace online that encourages students to engage in a dynamic cultural landscape defined by Yochai Benkler [13] as both critical and plastic.

Double Rainbow Remix Song (screenshot), 2010, uploaded to YouTube by user schmoyoho (The Gregory Brothers), video: http://youtu.be/MX0D4oZwCsA (Remix of viral video Yosemitebear Mountain Giant Double Rainbow 1-8-10, 2010, uploaded to YouTube by user Hungrybear9562 (Paul Vasquez), video: http://youtu.be/OQSNhk5ICTI).

Double Rainbow Remix Song (screenshot), 2010, uploaded to YouTube by user schmoyoho (The Gregory Brothers), video: http://youtu.be/MX0D4oZwCsA (Remix of viral video Yosemitebear Mountain Giant Double Rainbow 1-8-10, 2010, uploaded to YouTube by user Hungrybear9562 (Paul Vasquez), video: http://youtu.be/OQSNhk5ICTI).

David After Dentist After Remix (screenshot), 2009, uploaded to YouTube by user Tobuscus (Toby Turner), video: http://youtu.be/N618fLxQP6w (Remix of viral video David After Dentist, 2009, uploaded to YouTube by user booba1234 (David DeVore), video: http://youtu.be/N618fLxQP6w).

David After Dentist After Remix (screenshot), 2009, uploaded to YouTube by user Tobuscus (Toby Turner), video: http://youtu.be/N618fLxQP6w (Remix of viral video David After Dentist, 2009, uploaded to YouTube by user booba1234 (David DeVore), video: http://youtu.be/N618fLxQP6w).

It is important for college and university students to understand that an individual’s language and thought are not immutable and natural. [14] Just as we create relationships within emerging digital culture and in our own art/media practices, we need to create a space for students’ voices and an atmosphere of cooperative activism and engagement, rather than isolation and submission to the authority of the original. Within YouTube and other online platforms, the remix has become one important way prosumers engage with cultural production and deconstruct the mediascape in which they are embedded.

Figure 4: Double Rainbow Remix Google Search (screenshot), April 15, 2011, Heidi May.

Figure 4: Double Rainbow Remix Google Search (screenshot), April 15, 2011, Heidi May.

The liquidation of cultural and textual authority can be performed in the classroom as well, to encourage active listeners and spectators, and to get students involved in ideological production as opposed to passive consumption. The ability to easily manipulate images and sounds taken from the cultural landscape, and consequently, the ability to control and produce meaning should be an empowering experience. Linked to counter-hegemonic struggle, such activities have the potential to facilitate a radical cultural politics emanating from the classroom. If we embrace open-source culture as a pedagogical tool, we allow ourselves to embrace a space of emergence where new critical relationships and ideas are possible.

Open Engagement: Teaching Art and Media Online

How might open-source culture be incorporated into art and media curriculum in a way that instigates critical inquiry about the media being used?

The objective of our remix culture course is for students to develop a critical relationship and deeper understanding of their individual position within media/digital/networked culture. Extending upon understandings of a participatory and networked culture, remixing will be explored both conceptually and aesthetically through projects that require students to transform and reinterpret what they find on the Internet. Students will be encouraged to use open-source software for creative exercises and will work in and between different social media applications. Screenings, readings, and experimental manipulation will be paired with critical writing in blog or paper formats. One concern of the course will be whether a reflexive or critical intention is necessary for a remix to move beyond the vernacular. In studio projects, what we would have students seek is what Eduardo Navas terms the reflexive remix. The reflexive remix operates on the meta-level and while it may reference the original materials, it also represents a challenge to the aura and authority of the original, ultimately demanding reflection. [15] Integrated throughout the content of the course will be a pedagogical framework that aligns with the theories described above—an overall sense of working through the inquiry process together through ongoing dialogue with each other, using multiple forms of media.

Super Mario Movie (video still), 2005, Cory Arcangel, video, made available by the Arcangel at http://www.coryarcangel.com/things-i-made/supermariomovie/.

Super Mario Movie (video still), 2005, Cory Arcangel, video, made available by the Arcangel at http://www.coryarcangel.com/things-i-made/supermariomovie/.

Versions (video still), 2009, Oliver Laric, video, made available by Laric at http://oliverlaric.com/versions.htm.

Versions (video still), 2009, Oliver Laric, video, made available by Laric at http://oliverlaric.com/versions.htm.

Carnal Souls (video still), 2008-2009, AK_Alias, video, made available by AK_Alias at http://vimeo.com/6944713.

Carnal Souls (video still), 2008-2009, AK_Alias, video, made available by AK_Alias at http://vimeo.com/6944713.

Bootyclipse (video still), 2007, Dennis Knopf, video, made available by Knopf at http://youtu.be/-NBbgkmT1pY.

Bootyclipse (video still), 2007, Dennis Knopf, video, made available by Knopf at http://youtu.be/-NBbgkmT1pY.

The course will exist either entirely online or blended with face-to-face sessions that include discussions of what is happening in the online space. Students will interact with everyone through a central hub (blog/wiki format), in which they will link to personal process that includes visual/audio/video/written findings that connect to course projects. Contrary to what often happens in the traditional studio/lecture classroom, all of the artistic projects [16] and written responses will be open for reflection and dialogue. Teaching online encourages us to examine our pedagogy and learning as they exist within a different space that accommodates for different communication tools. The Internet classroom lends itself well to creating a ‘rhizomean curricular landscape,’ consisting of networked connections across multiple platforms ultimately forming a multilinear learning experience. With previous online courses we have taught individually, emphasis has been placed on collaboration and trust through continual development of course content on wikis [17] – embracing the lived vs. planned curriculum approach—and recording and archiving of creative process and dialogue. [18] Developing the mechanics of teaching studio art/media courses online [19] requires a willingness to discover new methods while designing a structure that acknowledges certain aspects of the physical studio space, i.e., adapts discussion forums to critiques, uses multiple windows for simultaneous viewing and commenting, positions the teacher as a monitor who looks for teachable moments in peer-centered dialogue.

In the same way that we require our students to locate themselves within this new ‘space of emergence,’ teachers must be willing to learn their way through this process as well. When adapting courses to the web, too often they are converted without considering the need to “pedagogically re-engineer” them to consider the current technology characteristics and learner needs. [20] Similar to the way that temporal knowledge does not merely exist in order to be acquired, these online spaces need to be built upon, even remixed, according to the collaborative and participatory actions of the students that make up the course. Although the course management systems (Moodle, Blackboard, etc.) that art schools adapt are useful for providing basic structure, this remix culture course expands outside the limitations of these systems in order to create an open learning space which is responsive and reflexive of the culture it examines.

Note
This paper extends ideas we presented at the New Media Caucus, CAA Conference 2011. The slideshow used in that presentation can be viewed here: http://vimeo.com/24140786

Endnotes
1. Tatianna Bazichelli, Networking: The Net as Artwork, trans. M. Calamia, H. Pringle, & G. Wright (Aarhus University: Digital Aesthetics Research Centre, 2008); and Tom Corby, ed., Network Art: Practices and Positions (New York: Routledge, 2006); and Craig Saper, Networked Art (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2001).
2. Brent Davis, Dennis Sumara, & Rebecca Luce-Kapler, Engaging Minds: Changing Teaching in Complex Times (Second Edition) (New York: Routledge, 2008).
3. John Dewey, Democracy and Education (Stilwell, KS: Digireads.com Publishing, 1916/2005).
4. Deborah Osberg, Gert Biesta, & Paul Cilliers, “From Representation to Emergence: Complexity’s Challenge to the Epistemology of Schooling,” Educational Philosophy and Theory 40, no. 1 (2008), 213-227.
5. See Davis et al., Engaging Minds.
6. Ted Aoki, “Spinning Inspirited Images in the Midst of Planned and Live(d) Curricula,” in William Pinar and Rita Irwin, eds., Curriculum in a New Key: The Collected Words of Ted. T. Aoki (Majwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996/2005), 419.
7. Ted Aoki, “Spinning Inspirited Images in the Midst of Planned and Live(d) Curricula.”
8. Ben Chang, email message to authors, April 7, 2011.
9. Osberg et al., “From Representation to Emergence,” 215.

  1. Kazys Varnelis, “The Immediated Now: Network Culture and the Poetics of Reality,” in Networked: a (networked_book) about (networked_art) (Authors and Collaborators of the Networked Book Project, Creative Commons, 2008), http://varnelis.networkedbook.org/ (accessed 15/04/11).
  2. Michel Foucault, “The Order of Discourse,” in Robert Young, ed., Untying the Text (Boston: Routledge, 1981), 64.
  3. Geert Lovinck, Interview with Vito Campanelli about Web Aesthetics, <nettime> May, 2007, http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-0705/msg00012.html (accessed 15/04/11).
  4. Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).
  5. Judith Williamson, “How Does Girl Number Twenty Understand Ideology?” in Screen Education 40, (1981/82): 80-87.
  6. Eduardo Navas, April 26, 2007, “The Three Basic Forms of Remix: A Point of Entry,” http://remixtheory.net/?p=174 (accessed on 15/04/11).
  7. The course might begin with a personal remix project that stems from an everyday encounter with digital culture accompanied by individual blogging. This could be followed by a project in which students are asked to work with partners, to merge the conceptual and physical spaces between their first projects. In a final project, the class would be asked to work together as a larger group to determine the networked relationships between all of the projects, a mash-up response to the everyday encounters with digital culture. A significant aspect of the course will be connecting the studio exploration with assigned readings and writing.

17. See online course by Jody Baker http://mhis429.pbworks.com/w/page/8115480/FrontPage.
18. See http://heidimay.ca/slideshows/Venice2009Pres1_large.html and http://heidimay.ca/slideshows/CeLC2009_large.html for slideshows by Heidi May about teaching online.
19. It is impossible to provide a few images here that would communicate the mechanics of teaching online. To get a better understanding of the online teaching and learning we have experienced, you are invited to visit the links above in 17 and 18.
20. B. Colis, Tele-learning in a Digital World: The Future of Distance Learning (London: International Thomson Computer Press, 1996).