LABS 2015 | Leonardo

Top-Ranked LABS Abstracts 2015

The Leonardo Abstracts Service (LABS) is an evolving, comprehensive database of thesis abstracts (PhD, Masters and MFA) on topics at the intersections between art, science and technology. This English-language database is hosted by Pomona College (Claremont, CA), under the direction of editor-in-chief Sheila Pinkel.

Each year, in addition to being published in the database, a selection of abstracts chosen by a peer review panel for their special relevance are published annually in Leonardo (see Vol. 49, No. 5, 2016) and on our website. We are pleased to present below the top-ranked thesis abstracts of 2015, and we congratulate the authors of the theses.

On Computational Ecosystems in Media Arts

Rui Filipe Antunes

This research is an exploration of issues surrounding the artistic production of computational ecosystems. A computational ecosystem is a system of agents designed to emulate, on computer, biological systems in which autonomous individuals are organized in a hierarchical food chain and interact by trading units of energy. This thesis maps out the field of computational ecosystems and examines their modes of production and functions. The central claim is that the narratives normally associated with these systems and their functioning are two complementary but separate entities. Considering these separately, the author argues, the computational ecosystem is an abstract generative engine for heterogeneity, spontaneity and even novelty. It is contended that the set of methods of production developed by exploratory artists using these artifacts might be instrumentalized as generative methods for the animation of general-purpose nonplayer characters in virtual worlds.

Rui Filipe Antunes: PhD diss., University of London, U.K., 2014.

Rui Filipe Antunes, still image from Where Is Lourenço Marques?, an ethnographic generative virtual world, animated with an autonomous population, 2013. (© Rui Antunes)

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A Postcolonial Critique of Industrial Design: A Critical Evaluation of the Relationship of Culture and Hegemony to Design Practice and Education Since the Late 20th Century

Taslima Begum

This research specifically focuses on the professional practices and training of Western industrial designers using key concepts from postcolonial and cultural theory as a lens to inform working practices and pedagogy in a complex global ecology.

The thesis claims that current design practice often leads to culturally determined—rather than universal—conceptions and thus attempts to re-envision design as practice within a (necessarily) hegemonic culture. As an epistemological investigation it endeavors to:

  • further understand the trajectory of globalization and culturally hegemonic potencies in relation to industrial design and technology
  • critically engage with the sociocultural implications of global, transcultural and hegemonic design solutions
  • explicate the developmental imperative for more culturally cognizant, pluralistic and responsible design practices and educational provision

It explores how design solutions produced and developed in the West and subsequently dispersed into global, international and foreign markets affect those cultures by asking how certain Eurocentric, colonial, materialistic and market-focused qualities embodied by these artifacts can inadvertently contribute to the privilege or marginalization of people from differing sociocultural settings.

The thesis contends that product designers are not explicitly trained to comprehend or surmount their respective cultural constraints or preferences, and design education both nationally and internationally is not yet sufficiently equipped with the tools to acknowledge and confront this.

The research broadens our intellectual understanding of how product design in its discourse, practice and pedagogy can often rely upon Western (hegemonic) aesthetic and deep cultural archetypes at the expense of multicultural ethics. It remedially highlights the potentials that exist to explore a synergy between east and west in industrial design with a prospective vision for an international, transcultural design ethos that embraces sensibilities of diversity in design values, concepts and culture.

Taslima Begum: PhD diss., University of Plymouth, U.K., 2015.

Taslima Begum, industrial design, culture and hegemony. (© Taslima Begum)

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Symbiogenic Experience and the Emergent Arts: Cybernetics, Art and Existential Phenomenology

Carlos Castellanos

This dissertation is an exploration of the ways in which certain forms of interactive art may elicit experiences of co-evolution within an increasingly technologized environment. These “emergent arts,” the author argues, facilitate or amplify a construction of a reality that is (inter)active, dynamic, heterogeneous and always already emerging, constituted by dynamic relationships rather than objective facts. This ontological vision resonates with constructivist and phenomenological theories of reality as well as neocybernetic notions of “observer-participants” and “enactive perception.” The term “co-evolution”—often taken to allude to Darwinian biological processes of interaction between two or more species—is recast to refer here to processes of emergence, self-organization and autopoiesis. New approaches to understanding and studying technologically based artworks are proffered that attend to how these artworks are contributing to a new range of experiences that more adeptly attune us to our techno-ecological context—experiences that the author refers to as “symbiogenic.” The research combines both theory and practice, combining artworks, scholarly writing and subjective accounts in order to build the foundations of a theoretical framework for identifying and analyzing these experiences. By examining these artworks and experiences via the interlocking frames of cybernetics, phenomenological philosophy, posthumanism and interactive/new media art, this dissertation articulates the movement toward a framework that provides insights into how interactive art may engender shifts in perceptual experience, enabling us to view ourselves as connected to and implicated in an infinitely complex world.

Carlos Castellanos: PhD diss., Simon Fraser University, Canada, 2014.

Carlos Castellanos, Biopoiesis, stannous chloride solution, custom electronics, 2011–2013. (© Carlos Castellanos)

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Motion within Motion: Investigating Digital Video in Light of Substantial Motion

Azadeh Emadi

This thesis investigates the surface of digital images to stimulate different ways of seeing and knowing. In tandem with philosophical inquiries, it considers creative approaches to moving-image in relation to the world outside the frame. Inspired by the movement between figurative/representative and nonfigurative/nonrepresentative elements in traditional Persian-Islamic arts and philosophy, the thesis responds to a renewed interest in Islamic and Persian philosophy. Amid recent research on intercultural video, materiality of digital media, Western process philosophies and connections between Islamic and new media art, this is the first study of the materiality of digital video at the level of pixels and engages pixels from videos filmed in Iran.

In the context of video and moving-image art, it is also the first study of Persian philosopher Mulla Sadrā Shirazi (1571–1641), whose philosophy is brought together with Western process philosophies and the work of film theorists like Gilles Deleuze. Sadrā’s theory of “reality” opens up questions and discussions about technological characteristics of digital video and its representational and figurative qualities, suggesting methods for moving beyond the surface of the image toward new creative potential in relation to the outside world. Sadrā’s concepts of time, motion and reality concerning the becoming of an entity enable a reading of digital video that connects the becoming of minimal parts—pixels—to the outside of the frame. From this perspective, the thesis expands on existing scholarship on moving-image and tests the creative potentials beyond figurative/representational aspects deriving from human-centric points of view.

Azadeh Emadi: PhD diss., Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand, 2014.

Azadeh Emadi, still image from Motion within Motion, two-channel video installation, 2014. (© Azadeh Emadi)

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Supporting Music Composition with Interactive Paper

Jérémie Garcia

Music composition has been deeply influenced by the computational power introduced by computers, but despite the use of software to create new sounds or process symbolic music, composers still use paper in their creative process. Interactive paper creates new opportunities for combining expression on paper and computation. However, designing for highly individual creative practitioners who use personal musical representations is challenging. In this thesis, the author argues that composers need personal and adaptable structures on paper in which they can express and explore musical ideas.

The author first presents three field studies with contemporary composers that examined the use of paper and the computer during the composition process and how linking the two media supports exploration of musical ideas. Based on participatory design studies, the author introduces Paper Substrates, interactive paper components that provide modular structures for interacting with personal representations of computer-based musical data. The author details tools to develop paper applications with the Paper Substrates approach.

Then the author describes a structured observation study with 12 composers who used Polyphony, a unified user interface that integrates interactive paper and electronic user interfaces, to compose a short electroacoustic piece. The study allowed the participants to systematically observe and compare their compositional processes.

Finally, the author reports on a project with Philippe Leroux during the composition of his piece “Quid Sit Musicus.” Several work sessions with the composer and a musical assistant led to the design of new paper-based interfaces for synthesizing sounds or controlling the spatialization from handwritten gestures over an old manuscript.

Jérémie Garcia: PhD diss., Université Paris-Sud, France, 2014.

Jérémie Garcia, exploring computer-based musical processes on paper. (© Inria. Photo: H. Raguet.)

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Communicating Science: Explorations through Science and Art

Eleanor Gates-Stuart

Science and art have a history of distinctive differences and opposing notions of experimentation. Nevertheless, these “two cultures,” as described by C.P. Snow, have more in common than might be supposed. Both are highly creative, both are exploratory, both have flashes of brilliance. It is surprising, therefore, that “scienceart,” or “artscience,” has not been intensively studied as a “third culture.” It is in this interactive space between the disciplines that this research study is focused. It is the expression of science through art and art through science.

Three case studies of communicating science through art are discussed. The works in these studies used art to express science to sectors of the public, research organizations and scientists themselves. Each case study addresses a research question about the communication of science and in turn discusses the creation of art to achieve this communication.

The first case study, FingerCodes, concerns a series of works using the fingerprint as a foundation for expressions of identity. The second, Titanium Insects, describes a collaboration between a scientist and an artist to inform both the science and the art. The third, StellrScope, extends the scope and depth of science-art intersection through an extensive study of wheat-science innovation over one hundred years, which resulted in a public artwork in a national science museum. The thesis makes recommendations for future practice and concludes with a new template—a model for similar collaborations.

Eleanor Gates Stuart: PhD diss., Australian National University, Australia, 2014.

Eleanor Gates-Stuart, In the Mix, archival pigment ink on paper, 2013. (© Eleanor Gates-Stuart)

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The Artists’ Footprint: Investigating the Distinct Contributions of Artists Engaging the Public with Climate Data

Rachel Jacobs

This thesis investigates the distinct contributions of artists who engage the public with climate data, focusing on two studies of artist-led projects: an interactive artwork that engaged the public with climate data and the design of an online platform for capturing, authoring and “performing” climate data.

The studies reveal how the projects were designed and experienced, through a mixed-methods approach requiring the author to shift perspectives to investigate her own arts practice alongside the work of other artists in this field.

The findings suggest the artists adopt a distinctive voice that fosters an emotional engagement with climate data, rather than an informative or persuasive one, that goes beyond “environmental knowing” toward human-scale, embodied, localized and personalized sense making. This research reveals how the artists use key strategies of performing data, sensory experience and multiple interpretations; engaging temporal structures and narratives; treating the data as a new material that is embedded into the artworks and embodied in various sensory forms; abstracting and juxtaposing multiple, contrasting and yet related datasets, while opening up spaces between them for interpretation and dialogue. This results in a discussion of the role of technology within the artistic process—how the artists walk a line between authenticity and emotional engagement and the importance of ongoing dialogic collaborations between disciplines.

This research reveals that artists have a distinctive role to play in relation to climate change and sustainability, from which those in other disciplines might ultimately learn more about how to bring an emotional treatment to other forms of data.

Rachel Jacobs: PhD diss., University of Nottingham, U.K., 2014.

Rachel Jacobs, A Conversation between Trees, interactive multimedia, 2011. (© Rachel Jacobs. Photo: Active Ingredient.)

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Outline of a Subversive Technopoetic: For a Libertarian Pedartgogy

Francesco Monico

The thesis explores the relationships between knowledge and knowing in contemporary 21st-century information society, using the foundation of the Faculty of Media Design & New Media Art at the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti in Milano as a research apparatus. This Faculty was established between 2003 and 2012 in Milano, Italy. The research was guided by the hypothesis that technics have tertiarized memory and that knowledge is always founded on an ontological pessimism and a perpetual process of the generation of meaning. Knowledge is always and inevitably linked to the technics with which it is passed on. Pedagogy becomes a questioning of the object of knowledge, which transmutes into a definition of the ways it can be visualized. Setting out from a pessimistic position in relation to knowledge and truth, this research amplifies them to infinite possible forms, causing a dual shift of philosophy toward art and of pedagogy toward hermeneutics. The methodology consisted of a textual and visual description of a territory in a cartography of meaning, seen as the relation between intuition and the way in which practices—as knowledge and arts—form remnants.

Francesco Monico: PhD diss., University of Plymouth, U.K., 2013.

Francesco Monico, Remnants, paper and pencil, 2012. (© Francesco Monico)

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Exploring Naming Behavior in Personal Digital Image Collections: The Iconology and Language Games of Pinterest

Tami Sutcliffe

More than 70 million independent user-curators have annotated their personal image collections on Pinterest since 2010. This translates into enormous numbers of individuals developing particular sense-making behaviors within the big, messy, organic datasets of Pinterest.

Naming in Pinterest is a collaborative expressive exercise as well as a private creative outlet. To capture the richness of the activities involved, a range of Wittgenstein’s language game constructions was overlaid on a sample of 700 individual pin image names, using a matrix composed of Panofsky’s subject matter strata, Rosch’s levels of categorical abstraction and Shatford Layne’s image attributes.

The intricacy of the examined surface grammar suggests Pinterest user-curators in this sample invested time and creativity in naming their collections, embracing name creation as a central aspect of the collecting process. User-curators volunteered names with a relative depth of personal meaning, contributing this personalized language across all content complexity levels of the associated images.

The relatively unrestricted naming activity visible in self-curated image collections like Pinterest offers a glimpse of both the strengths and weaknesses of a user-driven naming system. Exploring the language choices that user-curators make as they adapt individualized curating vocabularies identifies underlying user needs not apparent in traditionally curated collections restricted to standardized naming conventions. Witnessing the way images are named by engaged user-curators may assist architects of other virtual image collections to reduce factors that may have previously discouraged user name contributions.

Tami Sutcliffe: PhD diss., University of North Texas, U.S.A., 2014.

Tami Sutcliffe, Iconology of Pinterest, final data set screenshot, 2015. (© Tami Sutcliffe)