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

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the public record: expanded documentary, activism as affectivism (winter - fall 2017)

Sharon Daniel

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. The status of the documentary as a work of art and the deployment of documentary practices within the field of art are both contested. Documentary practices and their products, whether cinematic, photographic, journalistic or archival, have long been troubled by questions: regarding their relationship to the real (the construction of facticity); regarding their objectivity (the construction of perception and perspective); and regarding their social and political efficacy. The Public Records research group will engage these questions, in context, through reflective analysis and production of non-fiction, participatory and/or social media and/or physical archives - generating and appropriating personal, legal and public records for aesthetic and political ends

This research group seeks participants who will move across registers to reimagine existing methodologies and invent new forms. The goal is to find those who have their own abilities and approaches but who also desire meaningful collaboration. 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.

Research group members will pursue their own documentary or non-fiction-based creative practice and research, with feedback from faculty and other group members. At the same time, members may participate in one or more small group projects designed to produce completed works that can be publically launched, exhibited, demonstrated and result in conference papers and journal publications. Participants in the research group may become student fellows of the Center for Documentary Arts and Research through which they will have access to the center’s research faculty, resources and visitors.

Description of course structure and organization: During the first quarter (Winter 2017) we will establish an intellectual frame for student projects through reading and discussion—with an emphasis on analysis of examples of “expanded” forms of documentary practice. This will occur in a hybrid theory/practice studio/seminar adapted from the PhD seminar “Expanded Documentary,” which I taught in the spring of 2013 (syllabus available @ My intention is to arrange to have this cross-listed as FDM230 to encourage enrollment from FDM PhD and SocDoc students and, possibly, DANM students from other project groups who are interested in a one-quarter theory/practice seminar on the topic and graduate students from other programs on campus. During this quarter we will explore the aesthetic, political and ethical dimensions of new and expanded forms of documentary practice including; new media, database-driven, interactive documentary, participatory media, social media and documentation-based art practices, (i.e. material and media archives, performances and installations) through analysis of examples and the development of two short projects or project sketches. Unlike a typical seminar in which all students are assigned the same readings and projects to analyze each participant in the group will be assigned several different readings and projects which they will research and present in round-table format by taking on the character, philosophy and position of the artist or author in the discussion of a particular research question or problem relevant to documentary arts practice. For example, for a seminar session on the question of participation each student would prepare to “channel” the opinions or approaches of a different theorist in this arena, such as Claire Bishop or Nicholas Bourriaud, or an artist engaged in participatory practices such as Thomas Hirschorn, John Malepede, Steven Willats, etc. These seminar sessions will alternate with explorations of technical tools and platforms appropriate for use in student projects and critique of student projects.

Through the development of two project “sketches” students will be encouraged to focus on two 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- in other words, prototypes for database-driven, participatory and/or interactive works that are capable of developing dynamically as the context or situation documented evolves. The students will gather both ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ data relative to their chosen subject matter, research the work of relevant scholars both on campus and beyond and build or design “proof-of-concept” prototypes for dynamic public records and/or events that are shaped by argument, analysis and perpetuated through sustained inquiry.

For DANM Participatory Culture Project group members these “sketches” will serve as springboards for the projects they will pursue, collaboratively and individually, in the remaining two quarters of the project group. The seminar content will assist them in developing the biblio-media-ographies necessary for the development of their thesis papers. Students will be encouraged to formulate projects that require a longitudinal approach (and framework), where the fieldwork might be conducted locally beginning in spring quarter (this won’t be required, merely encouraged – students will be expected to complete any remote fieldwork and research during the summer), and where there are potential faculty and community collaborators accessible.  Within these parameters, students would choose the content-focus of their own individual or group project -- an issue or event situated within the arena of social justice, broadly defined – that they have a strong desire to research, understand and, ultimately, argue to the public. The students’ projects, depending on their scope, may become part of a larger series or exhibition or, depending on their content, combine within one framework as a single exhibition/publication. Cross-pollination between projects will be encouraged through an experimental collaborative writing project online, which might subsequently be published. It is difficult to predict the form or venue, beyond the general target of online publication/exhibition, for future project groups, as this will depend on the nature of the research interests of the participating students.

Funding Potential: The interactive, web-based, database-driven, new media documentary, or “iDoc” is, perhaps, one of the most rapidly emerging new media forms. The “iDoc” has become the focus of the international film and television industries, funders like the Tribeca Film Institute, and technology developers like the Mozilla Foundation, as well as a plethora of recent international festivals, conferences and exhibitions. I while this does not guarantee success in seeking grants I have, in the past, been able to support summer GSR positions for project group participants finalizing the research outcome for exhibition and for graduate students assisting on my personal research projects and I am certainly interested in finding support, where possible, for DANM students but this will depend on the specific skill sets of the students, the nature of the research outcome of the project group, and/or the availability of appropriate funding sources. I have also successfully assisted students in the pursuit of individual grants and internships that support their individual thesis projects and their participation as presenters at conferences and public symposia.

Description of expertise of Faculty: Sharon Daniel is a media artist who produces interactive and participatory documentaries focused on issues of social, economic, environmental and criminal justice. She builds online archives and interfaces that make the stories of marginalized and disenfranchised communities available across social, cultural and economic boundaries. Daniel's work has been exhibited internationally as well as on the internet. Most recently, a solo exhibition titled “Convictions” at STUK Kunstencentrum, Belgium, presented the body of new media documentary work she has produced over the last 14 years, addressing the troubled intersection of criminal and social justice. Each of the five works in CONVICTIONS examines various aspects of the criminal justice system through first hand testimony and evidence given by impacted individuals. Detailed descriptions and links to these works can be found at Daniel’s works have been shown in museums and festivals such as WRO media art biennial 2011 (Poland), Artefact 2010 (Belgium), Transmediale 08 (Germany), the ISEA/ZeroOne festival (2006 and 2010), the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival DEAF03 (Netherlands), Ars Electronica (Austria), the Lincoln Center Festival (NY/USA), the Corcoran Biennial (Washington DC) and the University of Paris I (France). Her essays have been published in books including Context Providers (Intellect Press 2011), Database Aesthetics (Minnesota University Press 2007) and the Sarai Reader05 as well as in professional journals such as Cinema Journal, Leonardo and Springerin. Daniel was awarded the prestigious Rockefeller/Tribeca Film Festival New Media Fellowship in 2009 and honored by the Webby Awards in 2008. She is a Professor in the Film and Digital Media Department and the Digital Arts and New Media MFA program at the University of California, Santa Cruz where she teaches classes in digital media theory and practice.