My practice as an educator is predicated on the ability to facilitate acts of experimentation. I teach to re-wire conditions, to flex and meld the thought processes and actions of each student. The proximity of the student community in a studio arts course allows me to have a direct impact and to witness new developments up close and personal. Learning is an action, it is embodied as well as mental, and a classroom based around "doing" is one where the students' shape their own methods and gain knowledge through constant exploration.
Studio arts discourse is changing rapidly and understanding how to navigate these transformations with forward thinking production techniques and emerging research methodologies can liberate the work-flow of the studio environment. As an interdisciplinary artist, I am inspired by a vast set of channels for making work which lie beyond the boundaries of media obsolescence. For me, teaching in a new media arts program takes on aspects of media archaeology which investigate the historical trends of technologically enhanced knowledge systems and digital media economies. I attempt to approach, construct with, and share technology non-hierarchically. For me, to say that all media is old media is also to exclaim that all media is ripe with potential discovery, regardless of how antiquated it appears to be.
Creatively exploring and scrutinizing various media genres, platforms and technologies through an artist's lens requires an experimental praxis and I imagine the collaborative studio environment as an artist-run sensory laboratory. Media art labs are sites where materials and aesthetics of technical concepts are developed transversely to their standard applications. What perceptual affordances are brought to the table through the artist's perspective? What questions do art students discern that offer an alternative approach to critical thinking and how does the artist's concerns influence other models of research inquiry? Much like more traditional scientific and technical lab spaces, the collaborative art studio is a place of knowledge production or what I like to call experience production. In this regard, I train student researchers to take up the task of hacking into and critiquing the programmatic structures of various technologies, the black box apparatus, the pre-built materials of our culture.
I borrow my concept of practicing media archaeology as an analytical tool rather than the collecting of "dead media" from media theorist Wolfgang Ernst. Such a method presents aspects of technology that would otherwise escape the discourse of cultural history. The analysis required slips past mass-media concerns and initiates alternative modes of knowledge creation. In many ways, the art student is an ideal candidate for "doing" media archaeology. In order for this situation to catalyze interesting results, I have found that introducing an array of tools which excite students must simultaneously contrast fundamental skill sets with a vantage point of where a tool's limits, holes, and surfaces conceal the socially complicated and problematic structures that abound. No technology is neutral nor is it everlasting. In fact, given the speed with which media technology becomes obsolescent, we can say that all new media is destined for its rapidly achieved archaeological context.
Given the above, teaching technology presents a host of challenges. Today’s platforms offer production possibilities that could quickly consume instruction time, dispersing efforts to weave in content or contemporary trends in the arts. Additionally, students arrive with vastly divergent levels of familiarity and confidence to work with various production tools. Finally, the aforementioned technological obsolescence is paced in a manner that students risk graduating with already outdated skills geared toward software that many might find difficult to purchase. Identifying oneself as a "media artist" is the equivalent of saying "I am under constant revision" and will continually reinvent my practice. Under these circumstances, I encourage skepticism of software/ hardware, emphasize the core knowledge that establishes a diversity of platforms, and teach students enough that they can continue to self-train after they graduate.
With this in mind, the classroom is a radical space of cross-pollination, of heavy collaboration between students, as well as collaboration between student and professor. If there is one thing I have consistently learned as a media arts instructor, it is that I must be willing to share in the learning experiences of my students, to labor alongside them. I also see the potential of collaborative teaching, where professors cross-list courses and share in the classroom/laboratory experience so that a dialogue between artists and scholars can be developed with the student's growth in mind. The successful media arts program of the immediate future actively seeks out and encourages interdisciplinary work, seeds connections between various departments within a university for advanced research, and pursues public facing outcomes and community programs which provide students with real world experience. Often the most rewarding learning exercise comes through taking students' work out of the confines of academia. By bridging the gap between the academy and the larger social world, my primary objective is to galvanize a community where art students can perform, exhibit and research in public, professional and unconventional settings. Public-facing exhibition and performance of work is especially important for students who are entering the final years of undergraduate work as BFAs or for graduate students during the entirety of an MFA program. In many ways the lab and the public sector are two sides of the same coin.
Having said that, before a collaborative group of artists "go public" with their work, tremendous focus and energy must be exerted by the class to produce the best work possible and this entails a rigorous production plan for both the creation of new work and an imaginative programmatic approach to its eventual presentation. In my experience the creative cycle is not just enlivened during the making of a thing. Creativity manifests through the cyclical process of exposure, dialectic, production, application, and experience. The classroom-laboratory is a space of exposure to adventurous materials, broad ideas, and varying techniques. There is no 'one size fits all' and I must engage beyond a personal scope of interests. Such behavior on my behalf sets an example for students to break away from aesthetic habits and dive into processes that challenge them. Through exposing students to a wealth of working models they are more likely to produce complex and relevant works of art, and to challenge each other along the way.
Accordingly, I structure my classes as studio-seminars so that the collaborative forces of creative production occur alongside relevant viewings, readings, and discussions on topical subjects that indicate movements in contemporary art and culture. A serious advantage that an art student in a university has is that their production of new works is not done in isolation. They inhabit a community of students and faculty that assist in the conception of projects and skill development. This space of critically acknowledging diverse historical issues as well as each other's concerns should never be taken for granted. Rather than strictly lecture to the class about contemporary art, I often require each student to prepare a presentation on a particular artist and project. I encourage collaborative or team presentations as well.
Assessing a student's work throughout the creative process isn't just a matter of noting visible successes and shortcomings but also seeing how willing they are to go into those failures or dead ends and explore what is still hidden and difficult to retrieve. As an art educator I take on a double position of setting forth a code of ideas, guideposts and skill-sets while asking my students to take risks and break away from habitual ways of thinking and making. This means that I too must be prepared to evaluate not only the predictable, oftentimes good work of a student who generally plays it safe, but also the more adventurous student work that challenges expectations. It is these challenges that particularly make teaching the true joy that it is for me when I am in the classroom.