The Studio of Now

The idea of Open Source Studio (OSS) has emerged from over twenty years of developing an artistic and teaching practice as the network itself has evolved from the earliest days of the World Wide Web. The artist studio as finite space, defined by physical walls, drawers, and desktops has been transformed and expanded in the virtual realm by communication “wormholes,” expanding digital storage capacities, and desktop space that is an open platform for artistic reach into realms only limited by the imagination. This is not a speculative studio of the future, it is the studio of now in the telematic age: a space that enables open source forms of studio practice in which sharing, collaboration, and other peer-to-peer forms of social interaction have become the norm.

During these past twenty years of reconsidering my own artistic practice as the evolving Web has catalyzed new art forms, technologies, social media, blogging, and uncategorizable forms of creative communications, Open Source Studio has become a conceptual framework for understanding and formulating a practice of networked art: concepts, approaches, methodologies and aspirations for artistic research, production, collaboration, and creative dialogue amplified by the network.

OSS as a system of tools and methods for teaching studio-based art, began to take shape in 2012 while creating an online graduate course for the Integrated Media Center at the California Institute of the Arts. The challenge was clear: how to engage art students of all disciplines in an immersive telematic experience that encourages collaboration and transparency in the educational process, while teaching the course from my studio in Washington, DC. Beginning in 2010, I had reconfigured my studio as a theatrical space, and as a long time educator who considers standing in front of a class an act of performance, it was a natural progression to consider the studio as a stage for online teaching.

CalArts was the ideal venue to formulate the OSS project – my alma mater where I received my MFA in Music Composition – an institution that is renowned for encouraging a culture of experimentation and expanding the boundaries of discipline and media. The central concept of the course was to provide CalArts students, all of whom were in residence at the Institute, a visceral experience of the virtual, that is, an immersion in net art and culture through study in the medium itself. Students from the various disciplines at CalArts (music, art, dance, theater, and film) were engaged in weekly, telematic sessions via Adobe Connect, web-conferencing software used to host lectures, discussion, presentation, and chat. These live sessions focused on topics ranging from the history of networked art to issues of privacy, surveillance, distributed presence, and virtual identity. At the heart of the OSS experience at CalArts, the course was intended to encourage and inspire collective learning, research, documentation, and production. For this purpose, we created a WordPress site that served as virtual studio space and a dynamic database. The OSS site was a multi-author system, in which all 11 students were provided with accounts for posting and sharing their writing and media, engaging in asynchronous online discussion, and participating in social media feeds.

In 2013, I joined the faculty of the School of Art, Design & Media (ADM) at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, where the OSS project underwent a “2nd generation” of conceptualization and development. In 2014, we designed a new OSS environment that invited students to collectively work across a network of WordPress sites, known as a “Multi-Site.” The realization of open source studio had expanded into a suite of studios as found in studio commons, in which artists are exposed to the work of others, encouraging the cross-pollination of ideas and inspiration through collective, peer-to-peer artistic production in the networked space.

It was at this point that I realized that Open Source Studio, for both teaching and working as an artist, had pointed to the potential of an intensely networked practice that collapsed geographic and spatial boundaries, connected studios, encouraged collaborative thinking, and catalyzed what has been referred to as DIWO (Do it With Others), in which individual artistic practices are networked as part of a larger social system, a dynamic that links artistic production with collaboration, dialogue and collective research.

This essay is intended to detail the conceptual framework behind Open Source Studio: as an idea, a way of working, a system of teaching studio art, and a philosophical position on open source practices that suggests how artists might further recalibrate their relationship with the network as a medium to expand their research and work (if they haven’t already). In an increasingly connected telematic society, the notion of the solitary artist sequestered in their studio may truly be a thing of the past. I invite you to consider the possibilities.