Once a year for the past 4 years a pile of artists from the Bay Area and beyond have escaped their usually city surroundings for a small northern California family farm turned art residency to talk, play, and project together around art and technology, new media, and digital culture.
The theme was taking care of ruin. The setting was fields turbulent hay edged by pines and a southbound sea.
Like every time I am invited to join in a new group I spent the first two days unsure of how to edge into the conversations around me. Cautiously awkward. Usually the odd kid out: in art contexts labeled a technologist and in tech settings labeled the weirdo artist, at WWWest I found myself surrounded by people making and thinking about art with technology and making and thinking about technology with art. It was awesome.
We took turns at chopping and dishes and slept in a hay field swiss with gopher holes. We held a constitutional convention. We LARPed. We sat in a hole called Library Hole and read books. We got lost (well… I got lost). We whispered through 100ft tubes. We gave talks. We went on silent walks. We french braided grass (well… I french braided grass). We visited the now defunct cable landing site of the transpacific fiber connecting our internet to Asia and beyond. We rented out the local movie theater for a screening of participant’s work and other internet errata. We made 3 different collaborative drawings:
- A spell, a worry stone, and a spot to pool lingering anxieties
- A sheet of paper with an old laptop as the only drawing implement
- 3D drawing on the Hololens that filled the entire farm house, my contribution to the genre
What I learned from collaborative holo drawing at WWWest:
- People expect to draw on planes. The standard tools of drawing leave behind a visceral shadow which decides what users will do in the holo drawing. This works great for lettering.
- BUT with only minimal guidance people quickly breakout into 3D. I started just getting people to move their hand closer and farther from their face. There were lots of ‘whoa’ moments. Then I added the instruction “Start drawing then hold your hand still in front of your face and just move your feet.” This worked most effectively with people who already had some movement experience in their practice. Hip wiggling, long walks around the common room, crouching and other movements appeared. The drawing became much more about how it felt to make than what it looked like when you were done. Yay process!
- Its really hard for people to follow their hand with their eyes as they draw. The limitation of the HoloLens which means visuals and hand tracking are stuck to the same small area makes the drawing less intuitive. People want to feel the line in their body first then look at it.
Many of the people at the event were hybrid artist researcher writer type humans.
I never made a painting as a work of art, it’s all research.
—Pablo Picasso (total internet misquote but it sounds good)
I found the gathering particularly relevant to eleVR’s work because the events central questions, about ruin, and lingering rot, and what gets valued were asked in order to spark process not answers. It expected art based research practices to be ongoing and cyclical, to take time, to build knowledge in unforecastable ways.
It was a welcomed relief as in my reading on art based research I have come across mostly texts that situate art based research in relation to social sciences. Elizabeth Andrews wrote a primer for those interested in an introduction to the terms use in the social science field. J. Gary Knowles and Andrea Cole write in their Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research that art based research is “an unfolding and expanding orientation to qualitative social science that draws inspiration, concepts, processes, and representation from the arts.” In Method Meets Art Patricia Leavy described art-based research as a more “holistic understanding of social research.”
In these academic settings art based research seems to intentionally segregate itself from the broader field of artistic processes and projects. This is likely because, as Shaun McNiff explains in Art as Research “Art-based research has emerged as an approach to inquiry primarily through the applied arts fields of the arts in therapy and education.”
eleVR’s approach to art-based research is more akin to the explorations I saw at WWWest. Making art with whatever tools and techniques are available, reflecting on and thinking critically about how those tools influence the work that is made, and inventing new tools and techniques (or new uses for old tools and techniques) and beginning the process again.
A thought to scale