25, No. 8, Oct. 20, 2005
technology searching for common space
Melissa Mitchell, News Bureau Staff Writer
is the final installment in a series of stories about new campus programs
bridging the arts, computing and technology.
to Part 1; Go to Part
Though random collaborations
among artists, scientists and technologists have emerged on campus through
the years, until recently, few formal structures have been in place
to support the development or continuity of such relationships.
David Weightman, the director of the School of Art and Design, is among
a handful of campus leaders who have been collaborating administratively
to draw up a strategic plan for steering the College of Fine and Applied
Arts along a new course – one that will encourage and nurture
such hybrid arts-and-technology collaborations in the future. At the
center of this ambitious goal is the launch of a proposed new facility
known as the Intermedialab.
photo to enlarge
by Hank Kaczmarski
Rose Marshack demonstrates The CANVAS, a large,
portable, immersive virtual-reality CAVE installation
space at Krannert Art Museum. Marshack, an artist
and programmer, was hired to coordinate CANVAS
The proposed lab
is a joint venture involving Art and Design, the Krannert Art Museum
and the department of computer science.
“Whilst collaboration has already started and is not dependent
on new buildings,” Weightman said, “one exciting possibility
is creating a two-story specialist facility spanning the Link Gallery
space between the school and the museum. Still in the preliminary phase
of development, the Intermedialab development plan involves calls for
securing funding for that two-story addition.”
The addition would include new lighting/sound studios, office and project
space, small conference facilities, smart classrooms and exhibition
Weightman said the lab, one of several hub sites to emerge from the
campus’s Seedbed Initiative for Transdomain Creativity: Exploring
Human Experience Through Art and Technology, would be a home base for
interdisciplinary research within art and design and within FAA. The
facility – which would be designed to complement existing facilities
on campus, such as the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science, the Siebel
Center for Computer Science and the National Center for Supercomputing
Applications – could be used to develop curriculum, research and
collaborative projects in such areas as new media, interactive multimedia,
gaming, animation, media production, media scripting, database architecture
and interface design. It also could be used by the art museum “to
expand its commitment to digital media, increase and broaden public
engagement, and develop a more integrated approach to exhibiting and
photo to enlarge
and Power: Performance and Surveillance in Video
Art,” one of the first exhibitions to emerge
from the Intermedialab concept, will be one of the
exhibitions featured at an opening reception 5 to
7 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Krannert Art Museum. The main
exhibition at the museum and a corresponding satellite
installation on view at the Siebel Center are on
view through Dec. 31.
is an ideal place to promote linkage between art, design and technology,
particularly with the traditional strengths in computing and engineering
research,” Weightman wrote in a proposal for the facility. “It
is important that the Beckman and Siebel centers in the north campus
continue to develop those linkages and house seed activities to input
artistic and designerly sensibilities into their work in computing research.
“However,” he noted, “it is equally important that
other nodes be established to input and develop technology within art
and design practice, and to provide locations in the south campus to
complement the northern ones.”
At present, development efforts are being fueled by a $40,000 planning
grant from the campus’s Critical Research Initiatives. The grant
has provided funding to
support visits by Weightman and others to similar facilities at other
institutions, including the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology and the Arts Media and Engineering Program at Arizona
State University. Workshops are also planned to share with interested
faculty and staff members knowledge gained from these site visits. And
Weightman said, grant-writing efforts are under way, aimed at securing
research funds for projects through the Intermedialab.
Weightman said there are about six to eight comparable facilities in
the United States.
“The Intermedialab would be of a different character from existing
centers,” he said, “as befits the differing educational
and practice cultures of the School of Art and Design.” For starters,
he said, the lab would be “project-oriented, active, and linked
to the exhibition facilities of the school and Krannert Art Museum.”
Furthermore, projects would be open to all levels of participation,
involving everything from undergraduate curriculum development to faculty
research. And the facility could be used to build on existing projects,
such as the Ninth Letter, a literary arts publication jointly produced
by the art school and the UI’s Creative Writing Program, to ongoing
work in narrative and electronic media.
Further distinguishing the UI lab from its counterparts elsewhere, Weightman
said, would be its emphasis on people.
“Most of what Art and Design does is connect with people –
as creators but also as audience, participants and users,” he
said. “We’re in the business of making things, which can
be interpreted in very broad ways to mean virtual things, too.”
So it follows, he said, that the Intermedialab would focus on “connecting,
enabling, educating and entertaining people through digital technology.”
And the presence of such a lab would definitely place the art and design
school on the map as a top destination for students interested in all
manner of digital art and technology.
“When I first came here,” Weightman said, “I realized
that what we did – particularly in our undergraduate curriculum
– in the area of digital media wasn’t very visible. We do
things – my colleagues Nan Goggin, Joseph Squier and Kevin Hamilton
have been active for a number of years in developing research and graduate
curriculum – but we have less available, as undergraduate programs,
than we should. In the future, when people ring us up and say they want
to be game designers, we’ll have a multiplicity of options for
Weightman said plans for developing the Intermedialab are expected to
progress in three stages, with phase one already under way. Under phase
one, four new faculty and academic staff members with digital-media
expertise were appointed this fall. The school also is developing a
new program in digital media at the undergraduate level and plans to
admit more graduate students interested in this area as well. Weightman
said plans also call for integrating with other facilities in the school,
such as the Product Interaction and Research Laboratory, along with
industrial design’s proposed Empathic Lab, which would be devoted
to better defining user needs.
Another part of phase one, he said, involves the enhancement of existing
equipment in the school’s media lab, and the recent installation
– in the lower level of the Krannert Art Museum – of “The
CANVAS,” a large, portable, immersive virtual-reality CAVE installation
The CANVAS – short for “Collaborative Advanced Navigation
Virtual Art Studio” – was created and installed by Hank
Kaczmarski, director of the Beckman Institute’s Integrated Systems
Laboratory. The studio is a collaborative venture between the institute
and the art school, with funding from the Seedbed Initiative. Based
on the UI’s CAVE technology, the CANVAS is intended as an advanced
navigation tool/space for virtual art and computer-assisted, multi-dimensional
Rose Marshack, an artist and programmer hired recently to coordinate
CANVAS projects, has been working with Kaczmarski to develop a set of
hardware and software tools that make it simple for non-programmers
to create applications for the space.
“The goal is to have it set up so anybody can use it – not
just ultra-techies,” Marshack said. “Artists can load a
simple text file with names of images and locations in the space, click
a button, and … poof! … their artwork will be up in The
So far, interest has been keen.
“For instance, Chris Martens, a sculptor, was really excited by
the idea. She said, ‘I’ve been thinking in 3-D all my life,’
” Marshack said.
A grand opening of The CANVAS,
featuring hands-on demonstrations of the technology, will be take place
from 5 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 21, during the opening reception for the museum’s
current new exhibitions.
Among the new shows is “Balance and Power: Performance and Surveillance
in Video Art,” one of the first exhibitions emphasizing the relationship
between art and technology to emerge from the Intermedialab concept
and closer ties forming between the art museum and the art school.
According to guest curator Michael Rush, the exhibition “examines
both the pioneer days of video art and current practices in an attempt
to understand the complex relationship between intentional acting for
the camera and our involuntary relinquishing of privacy to the cameras
of power systems that have an interest in the movement of citizens.”
In addition to the main exhibition at the museum, a corresponding, satellite
installation also is on view at the Siebel Center. Both shows run through
Hamilton, who joined the art and design faculty in 2002, has carved
out a niche for himself as a human bridge between the engineering and
arts campuses. In addition to co-teaching cultural computing courses
at the Siebel Center, he also coordinates an ongoing art-exhibition
program at the center.
Though undeniably “plugged in” to both art and technology,
Hamilton said, “I don’t find technology itself interesting.
I want content.”
Hamilton said the work currently on view at the Siebel Center as part
of “Balance & Power” includes plenty of content, much
of it video art projected on a large-scale, plasma-screen video wall
in the building’s “town square” area and on other
screens elsewhere throughout the center.
Hamilton noted that
the show’s video art/surveillance theme is of particular interest
in the environment of the Siebel Center, since the building is outfitted
with “info panels” and its own state-of-the-art surveillance
system, used for both security and research purposes.
“There are signs up all over, explicitly designating that surveillance
is going on, but people are continually concerned about legal aspects
associated with that,” he said.