Up in the AIR: How will tech residencies reshape Bay Area art?

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Image from Art+Tech: Virtual Reality, November 2014. (Photo: Codame).

Over the past year, San Francisco and the Bay Area have come to be defined in the national sphere by the think piece. In the constant stream of articles about gentrification, the Ellis Act evictions, artist displacement, and arts non profits closing left and right in response to the city's rising population and booming tech industry, it might be surprising to note that a number of tech companies are investing increasingly in artist residency programs. In fact, two of the biggest tech companies in the region—Facebook and Autodesk—maintain active residency programs. For companies without the infrastructure for such endeavors, local art and technology non-profit CODAME offers to pair tech companies with artists for individual projects through their "Adopt An Artist" program. While there is a lot of conversation (and concern) in the Bay Area regarding the tech industry's lack of support and philanthropy for the arts, the questions seem skewed towards trying to figure out how to cater to tech wealth, rather than thinking through art's role in the tech industry itself. This text surveys corporate residency programs in the Bay Area which exemplify how artists engage with this industry, and begins to sketch out possible implications—or potential—for the art infrastructure and its relationship with tech creativity.

Autodesk's Pier 9 Artist-in-Residence program is housed in the corporation's immense facility in Pier 9 along the waterfront in downtown San Francisco. Artists apply for four-month residencies at the space, which provides access to their workshop, a stipend, and the ability to work directly with the company's engineers on their projects. The program maintains a diverse pool of applicants who range from fashion designers to chefs, architects, and technologists as well as fine artists, who have access to Autodesk's high-end equipment, materials, and software, plus training and skillshare programs. Although it is not an explicit part of the program, the focus on "makers" over "fine artists" benefits Autodesk as well. The company launched Autodesk 123D in 2009 as free 3D modeling software designed for the general consumer, and they acquired the DIY info sharing website Instructables in 2011. The AIR program began at Instructables before their purchase by Autodesk, who developed it into a much larger initiative. All AIR residents are required to post their projects to the website, so there is a direct tie into the site's content. Envisioning how people create with their tools, or their competitor's tools, in a variety of scenarios is clearly a valuable asset to the company, especially as the mainstream culture moves into a maker culture.

Autodesk Pier 9 Workshop.

Autodesk's Pier 9 AIR Program Manager Vanessa Sigurdson describes the environment at Autodesk as an "office full of artists, not an office with artists" and they aim to have active interchange between the resident artists and engineers. Former resident artists Joseph DeLappe and Adrien Segal felt that the environment was very supportive and encouraging for visiting artists, with an "anything goes" atmosphere. DeLappe created rubber stamps for In Drones We Trust, while Segal used water consumption statistics to build a canyon-like bench. Both mentioned that the workshop helped to foster the company's culture of bustling, creative energy. Sigurdson referenced the Xerox PARC artist-in-residence (PAIR) program as an important inspiration for the residency, a project that similarly brought artists and technologists together in collaboration.

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Prosthetic Knowledge Picks: The Year of the Oculus Rift

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The latest in an ongoing series of themed collections of creative projects assembled by Prosthetic Knowledge. This edition brings together projects that make use of the Oculus Rift, a device that has reignited interest in virtual reality and provided creative inspiration for hackers and artists alike.

 Kim Laughton, Timefly.

Every year, there is usually at least one piece of technology that stands out, that captures the attention of engineers and creatives, that inspires new ideas and makes new experiences possible. At various times in the past, you could have said this in relation to (for example) the Kinect, Arduino, 3D printing, the Processing programming language, or projection mapping software. This year, one piece of tech stood out, one which reinvigorated an idea from the 1980s and 1990s, making it exciting and within the reach of anyone with a computer or console: the Oculus Rift.

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RECOMMENDED READING: The Dark Side of Metaphor: Fetish in User Interfaces by Alan F. Blackwell

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In a recent contribution to a symposium on universal conceptions of humanity [3], I reflected on the way that engineering logic requires the definition of standardised human components, and on the consequent reconception of the human body as a site of interface. I observed that this implicit rhetoric of standardisation (including clinical and technical repair of human interface deficits) is mirrored by an anxiety and adolescent fascination among many technology researchers, with the mechanical function of their own bodies. Whereas those tendencies are obscured and sublimated in HCI research, they become more open to analysis in science fiction, and this paper explores the nature of that critical opportunity.

eXistenZ, as with other films in Cronenberg’s oeuvre, owes much to J G Ballard’s book Crash, itself a gripping elaboration of the man-machine interface. Rather than the idealistic conceptions of Licklider’s human-computer symbiosis, or even the political systems critique of Haraway’s cyborgs, Crash portrays man-machine systems at a level every engineer can understand, not a mystical ‘hybrid of machine and organism’ [3 p.149], but an assemblage of components, with interfaces clearly marked. The point of interface between man and machine is the key concern of the engineer, but is also a site of transgression, to an extent that popular outrage at Cronenberg’s film recognised only deviance and sexual fetish. In the 20th century, the automobile has been the primary site of man-machine interface, emphasised in eXistenZ when the hero has an unlicensed bioport installed by the oil-stained mechanic at a local garage. I anticipate that in the 21st century, the mobile phone could replace the automobile as the most intimate and sexualised site of moral transgression.

— Alan F. Blackwell, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, "The Dark Side of Metaphor: Fetish in User Interfaces"

via Tabor Robak

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