The Studio of Now

13.10.21-Main Output-15.01.03
Randall Packer in his studio interviewing artist Mina Cheon via Skype for The Post Reality Show

The future is Now: the artist’s studio has been forever altered, wired, networked, and distributed. As of this writing, it has only been twenty-two years since the World Wide Web emerged as a mass medium, but in that relatively brief span of technological history, distances have collapsed, the divide between the local and the remote has blurred, and we are now living in the connected culture that Marshall McLuhan prophesied in the 1960s with his prediction of the global village.

What does this mean to the artist’s studio practice? The artist studio has traditionally been a finite space, defined by its physical walls, flat file cabinets, table surfaces, portfolio cases, and print racks. While you might consider the en plein air or Sunday painters as the exception to the rule, with their field easels overlooking outdoor landscapes, the studio of Now – its networked personal computer catalyzing an instantaneous flow of information – extends the studio well beyond landscapes and ocean vistas into the ever-expanding realm of cyberspace. The artist now incorporates tele-communications, social media, digital storage capacities, cloud-based file directories, and virtual desktop space into an open platform with room to move and roam beyond the physical world: opening up new potentialities for collaborative research and peer-to-peer artistic production amplified by the network.

In thinking about the ramifications of the dramatically changing studio, I have formulated a set of paradigms, methodologies and aspirations over the past four years that has taken shape as the Open Source Studio (OSS) project. OSS grew from the need to completely rethink an approach to teaching studio-based media art informed by our global information culture.

The project began as an artist residency in 2012 when I was invited to create 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 online experience that encourages collaboration and transparency while teaching remotely from my studio in Washington, DC. By this time, I had already reconfigured my own studio as a space for Internet performance art with the production of The Post Reality Show, an Internet talk show and multimedia project. 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 remote teaching.

CalArts was the ideal venue to formulate the OSS project, 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 Internet art and culture through study in the medium itself: learning by doing. Students from the various disciplines at CalArts (music, art, dance, theater, and film) were engaged in weekly, live web-conferencing sessions via Adobe Connect, a medium for hosting online lectures, discussion, 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. The course also exposed students to open source thinking in order to inspire and inform collective processes of learning, research, documentation, and production. We created a WordPress site that served as an integrated virtual studio environment for students to post and share their writing and research, document their projects, engage in online discussion, and participate 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 WordPress environment that invited students to work across a “suite” of virtual studios, known as a “multi-site,” each student with their own personal Website united by a single database. This configuration enabled highly sophisticated aggregation schemes to organize student work within a single class Website that dynamically shared the research and artistic work of each student and encouraged the cross-pollination of ideas and process.

OSS, by uniting the artistic process in the online environment, pointed to the potential of an intensely networked practice that uses database technology to identify and group concepts, connect studios, heighten collaborative engagement, introduce collective forms of narrative, and catalyze what has been aptly referred to as DIWO (Do it With Others): in which each artist is networked as part of a creative “social ecology.” Marc Garrett describes peer-based practices in the arts: “The process is as important as the outcome, forming relationally aware peer enactments. It is a living art, exploiting contemporary forms of digital and physical networks as a mode of open praxis, as in the Greek word for doing, and as in, doing it with others.”

This essay is intended to detail the conceptual framework behind the Open Source Studio project: a philosophical, pedagogical, and aesthetic position on open source thinking that suggests how creative artists and professionals from all disciplines might recalibrate their relationship with the network to expand their practice (if they haven’t already). In an increasingly connected telematic culture, the romantic notion of the solitary artist sequestered in a lonely atelier, perhaps escaping momentarily to capture a landscape, may truly be a thing of the past. I invite you to consider the possibilities.

[1] Garrett, M (2014) “DIWO: Artistic Co-creation as a Decentralized Method of Peer Empowerment in Today’s Multitude,” Sead White Papers Network

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