Digital Arts and New Media: MFA: Collaboration, Innovation, Social Impact

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Socially Engaged Art

The Public Record and Interactive Documentary

The backdrop against which art now stands out is a particular state of society. What an installation, a performance, a concept or a mediated image can do is to mark out a possible or real shift with respect to the laws, the customs, the measures, the mores, the technical and organizational devices that define how we must behave and how we may relate to each other at a given time and in a given place. What we look for in art is a different way to live, a fresh chance at coexistence… Artistic activism is affectivism, it opens up expanding territories. – Brian Holmes  

The Public Records research group will explore the aesthetic, political and ethical dimensions of new and expanded forms of documentary art practice, interactive documentary, and social art practice. The group will experiment with new methodologies and technologies to generate new kinds of politically and socially productive documents of our situated realities.  

Documentary scholar and theorist Tom Rankin wrote, “For all a photograph can [or cannot] tell it exists because someone went somewhere, saw something, and used their camera to do something about it.” To record an image or sound requires both movement and action -- going somewhere, seeing something, doing something -- “doing something about it” demands more – it entails movement across multiple registers; from the personal to the public sphere, from individual to collective speech, from aesthetics to politics.  

This research group seeks participants interested in: 

- Documenting and analyzing specific instances of social and environmental injustice; 
- Tracking and mapping current trends of socio-economic, political and racial oppression  
- Moving across registers to reimagine existing methodologies and invent new forms. 

The goal is to find those who have their own abilities, approaches and interests within a human rights/social justice framework but who also desire meaningful collaboration. The group will explore new methodologies for documentary research, production and social practice and bring their shared research together into an interactive, audio-visual Atlas/Archive that represents and challenges specific examples of structural inequality. 

Through a combination of narrative, visual and participatory approaches, we will bring the findings of key studies from across relevant disciplines together with original documentation and first-hand accounts by impacted communities into a comprehensive interdisciplinary, intersectional analysis of the many forms of structural inequality that persist today. Each student in the research group will develop an interactive “visual narrative” (or audio-visual narrative) expanding upon existing research studies of a particular site, institution, condition, or socio-legal phenomenon.  

The concept of the ‘Visual Narrative’ for this project includes, but is not limited to: 
- Documentary media which make use of original interview and observational recordings and existing public media/records; 
- Data mapping and visualization;  
- Cartography, photography, drawing, collage;  
- Participatory enactments and documentary reenactments; - Archival documents and texts; 

Each “visual narrative” will tell a multi-dimensional story of an institution, place, occurrence or state of structural inequality and examine potential solutions. Through this practice the group will address problems that require innovation within new media documentary and/or social practice 1) how to effectively represent or visualize “subjective” or “qualitative” data (in the form of interviews and observational documentation) in tandem with “objective” or “quantitative” data (studies, statistics, etc.), and 2) how to generate/design “dynamic” documentaries or participatory frameworks for database-driven, participatory and/or interactive works that are capable of developing dynamically as the context or situation documented evolves. While multiple academic studies from a variety of disciplines challenge current policies and institutions that play a part in structural inequality, they seldom are brought into dialogue across disciplinary boundaries or entered effectively into the public conversation.

Students will be encouraged to engage with studies by UCSC and UC system-wide social scientists on their chosen issue or site so that they might consult or collaborate with the study’s author(s) in developing their “chapter”. The students will gather both ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ data relative to their chosen subject matter and design their “chapters” as dynamic public records and/or events that are shaped by argument, analysis.  

In this way students will engage in sharing and collaboration by bringing their work together in the implementation of a digital archive while pursuing their own individual research/art practice on a focus of their choice - developing methodologies, and content that will inform their thesis projects. 

Ideal candidates will have backgrounds that are already interdisciplinary, especially including two or more of the following: non-fiction film/video making, interaction/graphic/industrial design, radio production or sound art/design, computer science, digital arts, social art practice, journalism, documentary studies, social theory/philosophy.  Students who are interested in working on issues of social, economic, racial and/or environmental justice and pursuing their research in the context of public institutions and legal frameworks with a focus on law and governance, will be given special consideration. 

with Sharon Daniel

(Formerly "Participatory Culture")