Monday, October 30, 2006

Installation and Introspection:
Finding Your Way in the Dark

The second installment of this year’s Colloquia series “Interactivities: Conversations with Media Artists and Theorists” was presented on Friday, October 27th at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee by widely acclaimed installation artist and pioneer Mary Lucier and film scholar Melinda Barlow, from the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Barlow is a researcher of Mary Lucier’s work, having edited the book Mary Lucier
(PAJ Books: Art + Performance), a compilation of writings by and about Lucier, as well as drawings and ephemera surrounding the artist’s projects. She is also the author of the forthcoming “Lost Objects of Desire: Video Installation, Mary Lucier and the Romance of History”, to be published by the University of Minnesota Press.

Barlow introduced the subject of video installations by pointing out the contradictory nature of installation art, as an ambivalent media that offers, on one hand, the materiality of an environment that engages the audience in a concrete and tactile experience and, on the other, the impermanence of ephemeral objects – a consequence of the transient nature of most such work, displayed only temporarily at any given location. To illustrate this, Barlow paraphrased the California-based scholar Margaret Morse, stating that, when installation art is concerned, “you had to be there”.

“Being there” is in the core of the interactive essence of video installations. Throughout the presentation both Barlow and Lucier presented rich documentation of some of Lucier’s projects,
including “Asylum, a Romance” (1986), “Oblique House” (1993) and the never realized “Portrait of Rosa Mendez” (1974). With very few exceptions - such as “Dawn Burn” (1975), currently in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco - most of the work discussed is unavailable for visitation, which means we must rely on the paper and image trail left by the artist and compiled and analyzed by the scholar. Melinda Barlow’s evocative writing and description of Mary Lucier’s pieces appears as an appealing alternative to the impermanence of the work, making the artist-scholar dialogue particularly relevant and enlightening, in this context.

Lucier closed the presentation by showing the kaleidoscopic finale of “The Plains of Sweet Regret” (2004), an installation originally commissioned by the North Dakota Museum of Art.
As beautifully edited and touching as the now single-channel piece “Arabesque” is, Barlow is quick to remark that watching its projection is “nowhere near the experience of being in the space”, where it was shown in four large video projection screens and two 43” plasma monitors, with Lucier’s multi-layered version of George Strait’s song “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” reverberating from four loudspeakers.

The travel-inclined colloquia audience can take comfort in the fact that “The Plains of Sweet Regret” is currently installed at the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor (until November 19th) and will be shown at Lennon, Weinberg, Inc. in New York city from March 10th to April 28th, 2007.
A website about the project including an inspired essay by Laurel Reuter is also available at

The Colloquia with Mary Lucier and Melinda Barlow was a unique opportunity to watch the interaction of artist and scholar and how blurry these boundaries become when both parties are so deeply invested in the work. Mary Lucier is clearly an intellectual herself, while Barlow’s descriptions are meant to be an “evocation” of her pieces. “[Lucier’s work] gives me permission and freedom to be lyrical”, she says.

It seems to me that the presentation last Friday was led by a practice-scholar and a theory-poet, and it wasn’t always easy to tell which was which. Like with video installation in general and Mary Lucier’s work in particular, “you just had to be there”.

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On a side note, a remarkable complement to the Colloquia was to see Mary Lucier in action at the Milwaukee Art Museum, where, over the weekend, the artist shot her next performance / video installation. Lucier installed three cameras in Windhover Hall, the lobby of Santiago Calatrava-designed’s Quadracci Pavilion in order to capture “the changing light and mood in this space as she videotapes visitors’ interactions with the site”.
A test video preview of Lucier’s work at the MAM can be found at

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Conceptual Studies In Action!

Want to see more of the exciting student work being done in the
Conceptual Studies program at UWM?
Click here

"Interactivities": Mary Lucier and Melinda Barlow

Just a quick word about our next presentation in the colloquia series, Interactivities. I am very excited about this event since it brings together in conversation Mary Lucier, a video/installation artist currently teaching at UWM, and Melinda Barlow, a film theorist/critic at the University of Colorado-Boulder. This is the kind of dialogue the Conceptual Studies crew lives for since we believe strongly not only in the collaborative process but also in the intersection of creative and critical practice. There is a long standing and esteemed tradition in the cinema of the merger of theory/practice (e.g., in the work of Jean Epstein, Germaine Dulac, Dziga Vertov not to mention their contemporary counterparts in Jean-Luc Godard, Anne Marie Mieville, and within the new media world, Carroll Parrott Blue, Lev Manovich, and Norman Klein). Nonetheless, there is also a counter narrative in media discourse that would have us believe that these things exist only in isolation from each other or are best understood only through highly specialized training. Such a view undercuts the very radicality that visual thinking/writing represented -- a "language" whose open form escapes the confines of institutionalized speech/discourse. In some ways, the idea of interactivity is already in place once the image is initiated as the primary instrument of "interface" for us. Certainly images can be "read" or manipulated and framed to produce a "passive" response, but images and especially moving images begin with an uncanny gesture toward the past, present, and future simultaneously. It is in that moment of the now/not quite now that opens the image to the viewer and draws us into an opportunity for "interactivity." Hope to see you at the colloquia, DJ Zoe Trop (aka V. Callahan)

October 27, 2006 Colloquia: Mary Lucier and Melinda Barlow

Sunday, October 15, 2006

BFA in Film, Conceptual Studies Track at UWM

The Department of Film in the Peck School of the Arts offers three integrated tracks of study leading to a BFA in Film Production, with an emphasis on the following:

Film/Video/New Genres
Conceptual Studies in Media Arts Production

The Conceptual Studies in Media Arts Production Track of the BFA degree in Film offers a rigorous course of study in media arts theory, history, and criticism thoroughly integrated with production in film, video, new genres and photography within courses and across the curriculum.

Click here to download the course requirements for the Conceptual Studies track.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Colloquia- 10/9/06

On Monday October 9th, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee was honored to welcome digital media critic and theorist Peter Lunenfeld as the first speaker of the university conceptual film department’s annual colloquia series. Lunenfeld, author of USER: InfoTechnoDemo, used the two hours to explain his thoughts on technology today, discuss how it now goes hand in hand with literature, and then went on to show a number of examples that display this theory.
The first main point Lunenfeld tried to explain was how our culture has stopped dead in its tracks when it comes to visions about the future. His example was the film Blade Runner, which (in 1982), showed a futuristic world that would mold this image into society’s head of what people had to look forward to. He explained how films such as The Matrix display this same futuristic world, twenty years later, with only subtle differences existing between the two.

Lunenfeld, who is also an avid worker on the Mediawork Project ( explained that while this futuristic world is not at all like the one that has been imagined for many years, it has changed to the extent that technology goes hand in hand with media that never would have been considered as such, but more so that the use of this technology to (as he stressed) enhance and not replace these media by allowing the user some interactivity with them. The examples given on the website above explore this idea, with the use of interactive reading (choosing the way a story is going to mold), or even through just having the text scroll different ways, making the reader investigate the way they view a certain type of medium.

Editorial note by Conceptual Studies: We've added some "visual aids" here. The last two images come from Scott McCloud's "webtake" response to Brenda Laurel's equally inspired "Utopian Entrepreneur." Visit the link given above to read through Laurel's and McCloud's pieces in their entirety.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Colloquia in Conceptual Studies are intended as a forum in which to interrogate and initiate new models of media theory, history, and practice. This year, in focusing on interactive media, we will present some of the leading media artists, scholars, and critics shaping the forms and discourse of contemporary culture today. The idea of interactivity, often understood as a given of the digital age, will be examined from a variety of perspectives as we address dimensions of interactivity that include video installation, audio art and music, dance, interactive cinema, and gaming. Appropriate to the topic, the colloquia will feature a number of presentations that explicitly engage an active dialogue between an artist and media theorist/historian. Lectures are free and open to the public. Interactivities has been co-programmed by Mary Lucier and Vicki Callahan.
[Image from: Bob's Palace, by Luc Vanier]

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Peter Lunenfeld at UWM's Colloquia in Conceptual Studies, October 9, 2006

PETER LUNENFELD’s presentation for the colloquia, The Mediawork Project: What Kinds of Texts, Images, and Interactions do Visual Intellectuals Need in a Networked Age? addresses the emergence of visual intellectuals—people simultaneously making, pondering, and commenting on culture in a way that doesn’t always begin with words. He discusses how to develop strategies to make the dissemination of critical thinking both more seductive and more rigorous to geeks and technophobes, artists and art historians, MBA’s and scientists alike.

PETER LUNENFELD is a writer and critic specializing in the history and theory of media technologies and a member of the Core Faculty of the Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design. He holds a BA from Columbia University, an MA from SUNY at Buffalo, and a PhD from UCLA. Peter founded Mediawork: the Southern California New Media Working Group. He serves as Director of the Institute for Technology & Aesthetics (ITA), is the author of USER (MIT, 2004) and Snap to Grid: A User’s Guide to Digital Arts, Media & Cultures (MIT, 2000). He is the editor of The Digital Dialectic: New Essays in New Media (MIT, 1999) and the editorial director for the Mediawork Project, a pamphlet series, from MIT Press. Mediawork pamphlets explore art, literature, design, music, and architecture in the context of emergent technologies and rapid economic and social change. They can be described as being somewhere in-between ‘zines for grown-ups and transmedia theoretical fetish objects.

Monday, October 02, 2006

An Overall Description of the Sophie demonstration

On the evening of October 2, 2006, Virginia Kuhn of USC came to the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee to demonstrate a program that was released that very morning- Sophie. Sophie is an updated program of TK3, an interactive open source program that brings together iMovie and Powerpoint. With this combination, a user has the ability to format their presentation in either timeline or page form, allowing the presentation to be viewed as either a book or a film. Kuhn introduced the program as such, stressing the importance of linking digital visuals to text in the 21st century, and how the combination of these two can blend for an ideal format for dissertations, etc.
Kuhn first showed the group examples of projects created on TK3, as the program is very similar to the Sophie program, with a few exceptions. The first was a dissertation on Middle-Eastern Americans. By scanning the project, Kuhn demonstrated how TK3 has the ability to create a table of contents with hyperlinks, to take you to the desired section of the paper, as well as page turning options similar to those on Adobe Reader. The project displayed the program’s video capabilities, the option to create annotations for reference capabilities, a notebook window for readers to comment on the project being viewed, and a word finding option, just to display a view. This first project showed TK3/Sophie’s ability to create a project similar to something out of an interactive encyclopedia. Following, Kuhn tried displaying a storybook movie project someone had created, but because all the files were not present, the project was not viewable. Last was a film by John Berger, showing the program’s ability to either fullscreen a video, or surround it by text before viewing.
A video done by TK3 creator Bob Stein took over from here, demonstrating how Sophie worked. The short film demonstrated the program’s text field sizing abilities, the concept behind the timeline option in the program (the program can have an unlimited number of timelines and pages), the ability to scroll through the pages or go through them from the hyperlinks, and overall just how simple using the program was. The project created for the demo was a slideshow with Beethoven’s 5th symphony.
While the demonstration was informational in many ways, it moved incredibly too fast for the group, which is why Kuhn followed up with a full demonstration on how the program worked. It was at this point that many of the glitches of the program were pointed out to the group. However, Kuhn pointed out that because the program is so new, using it is a learning experience for everyone, including the creators, and any problems with the program should be addressed by sending an email to the help staff.
Overall, Sophie looks to be a promising new program that will hopefully one day replace Powerpoint and iMovie. While many questions and suggestions were shot out at the session, it was evident that the group was very excited about learning the new software, as seen from the hands-on workshop that followed the lecture. The program’s click and drag options make the program simple enough to use for most people, the only criticism most had was the program’s inability to open a new book by itself. The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee thanks Ms. Kuhn for her time this evening with the lecture and demonstration of Sophie.

Sophie workshops: Monday and Tuesday

Will multimedia electronic “books” become an everyday part of the toolkit for scholars and students of the future? Check out the possibilities with “Sophie” at one of two special workshops.

Workshop on Sophie: A New Electronic Book Software from USC’s Institute for the Future of the Book

Presented by Virginia Kuhn, USC Institute for Multimedia Literacy

Monday, Oct. 2, 3-5:00 p.m or
Tuesday, Oct. 3, 3:30-5:00 p.m
Merrill Hall 214, UWM campus

Sophie is an open-source platform for creating and reading electronic books in a networked environment. It will facilitate the construction of documents that use multimedia in ways that are currently difficult, if not impossible, with today's software. A platform that treats text, image and sound with equal respect, Sophie is the next iteration of the proprietary program. The Mellon Foundation funded TK3’s evolution to the open source Sophie as part of their multimillion-dollar project that endeavors to create high-end tools for digital scholarship. Sophie is being developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book, a think tank which, although located in New York, is a project of the University of Southern California.

Virginia Kuhn has been teaching with TK3 for several years in courses as diverse as Media Literacy and Writing in Cyberspace to Multicultural America. She created one of the country’s only all-digital dissertations in TK3, challenging copyright law and archiving conventions. Her contention is that current copyright and archiving protocols are print-based and are no longer viable in 21st century scholarship. Kuhn earned her doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition right here at UWM before taking a postdoctoral research position at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Multimedia Literacy. She is currently a Project Specialist, responsible for assessing the last seven years of the IML’s existence, as well as work on a digital portfolio and archiving project with the San Diego Supercomputing Center. Kuhn has been integral in the process of Sophie’s development and will be bringing the very latest version of the program, demonstrating its uses and engaging participants in a hands-on workshop using Sophie.

(Please note: you need only attend one workshop and MAC users may want to bring their laptops to this PC lab, Sophie is a cross platform software).

for more on Sophie go to:

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Welcome to Conceptual Studies at UWM

Welcome to the blog for Conceptual Studies in the Department of Film at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

Coming very soon: news of the 2006-2007 Colloquia in Conceptual Studies. This year's topic is "Interactivities: Conversations with Media Artists and Theorists." Schedule is as follows:


Monday October 9, 6-9pm (MIT B91)
Peter Lunenfeld (Professor, Media Design Program, Art Center College of Design)
Title: “The Mediawork Project: What Kinds of Texts, Images, and Interactions Do Visual Intellectuals Need in a Networked Age?”

Friday October 27, 2-5pm (CRT 175)
Mary Lucier (Visiting Professor, Film Department/UW-Milwaukee; Video Installation Artist) and Melinda Barlow (Associate Professor of Film Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder)
Title: “Installation and Introspection: Finding Your Way in the Dark”

Friday November 10, 2-5pm (CRT 175)
Susana Ruiz (USC School of Cinema-Television, Division of Interactive Media)
Title:“Merging Gravity and Play: A Case Study"

Friday, December 8, 2-5pm (CRT 175)
Grahame Weinbren (Professor, School of Visual Arts; Editor, Millennium Film Journal; Interactive Media Artist)
Title: "In the Ocean of Streams of Story."