STEAM Workshop Ideas: Africa Atlanta 2014

The mechanisms of vision can inform technology design, and its cognitive power can make sense of symbolic orders.  Both vision and computation are very prone to abstraction, and the trick is to get them to coincide. – Marshall McCullough, p. 49

Left: “MassQing” with artists Daniel Callahan and Destiny Palmer. Courtesy of Destiny Palmer; Right: Hank Willis Thomas. “Untitled, (Wayfarer series),” 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Left: “MassQing” with artists Daniel Callahan and Destiny Palmer. Courtesy of Destiny Palmer; Right: Hank Willis Thomas. “Untitled, (Wayfarer series),” 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Events from this week inspired several ideas for 2014. First, there’s the prospect of Sanford Biggers coming to Georgia Tech as a visiting artist. This residency and culminating installation performance will anchor thematically related events and activities at Georgia Tech and across the City of Atlanta under the umbrella of Africa Atlanta 2014. In my proposal Sanford would meet with students and faculty to help launch a culturally situated STEAM (science, technology, engineering, math… and art) after school education workshop. In between his visits to ATL/campus youth participants will produce an interactive art project inspired by the artist’s work.

Post-colonial Bwa plank masks from Burkina Faso.

Post-colonial Bwa plank masks from Burkina Faso.

In my opinion contemporary art practices are the key to linking STEAM concepts, i.e. via abstraction. In Colonizing Abstraction: MoMA’s Inventing Abstraction the author confronts the need for cultural institutions to engage cross-cultural exchange.  My idea is to extend exhibitions like the one at MoMA or Africa Atlanta 2014 to show students how these cultural heritage artifacts and abstract artworks are relevant to their own interests and lives. During Sanford Biggers’ residency I am proposing a STEAM workshop that will consist of three stages:

  • Pre-Production, including the use of Culturally Situated Design Tools (math) and science to simulate/create designs.
  • Production, including the creation of art inspired by the visiting artist’s work.
  • Installation & Exhibition, including a mobile application to enhance the student art project.

Mapping, or maps is a theme that is emerging from Africa Atlanta 2014 planning. This project will be anchored by art exhibitions, in collaboration with the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium. One group is working on a interactive map project at the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum (Georgia Tech). The Sanford Biggers residency would take place in the Ferst Center for the Arts.

(Left): Sanford Biggers. “Untitled,” 2012. Photo by Nettrice R. Gaskins. Courtesy of the artist; Figure 3 (Right): Julie Mehretu. “Grey Space (distractor),” 2006. Courtesy of the artist.

(Left): Sanford Biggers. “Untitled,” 2012. Photo by Nettrice R. Gaskins. Courtesy of the artist;
Figure 3 (Right): Julie Mehretu. “Grey Space (distractor),” 2006. Courtesy of the artist.

Sanford repurposes historical quilts made by American slaves that may have been used on the Underground Railroad as signposts signaling stations or safe houses. His work re-imagines the cultural and historical artifacts of the past using materials of the present. Relevant aspects include star charts (maps) that are divided by astronomers into grids, then used to identify and locate stars, constellations and galaxies. Many of these quilt designs are based on the polar and Cartesian coordinate systems in mathematics, for instance, the use of half-square (equilateral) triangles. Biggers’ reuses quilts to incorporate geometric diagrams and organic images. I also thought of artist Houston Conwill whose floor map installations reveal the hidden histories of the African Diaspora

Adapting the secret symbol language of veve and anafourana, born from West African sign languages, brother and sister Houston Conwill and Estella Conwill Majozo have developed a metaphorical cartography, which merges secret slave languages of the Americas with modern civil rights history in public floor maps. –Vernacular Mapping

Houston Conwill and Estella Conwill Majozo. "DuSable’s Journey," 1991, the Harold Washington Public Library (Chicago, IL).

Houston Conwill and Estella Conwill Majozo. “DuSable’s Journey,” 1991, the Harold Washington Public Library (Chicago, IL).

Masking or “massQuing” is a contemporary art practice that has the potential to create interesting interactive art. In Sanford’s film series, Shuffle, Shake & Shatter the subject (Ricardo) dons masks. The mask represents the “formation and dissolution of identity.” What Sanford (pictured in Thomas’ Wayfarer photo above) brings is art that is at the intersection of Afrofuturism and syncretism, a parallel cultural practice that brings together disparate technologies (interactive and digital, for example), new rituals of communication (mobile, online), and communities that remain open to the incorporation of older knowledge contexts.

In using the face as a canvas, the MassQ requires all participants (artist, subject and viewer) to engage each other, face to face. MassQing (the process of creating the MassQ) is as much about this communion and communication between people as it is the art form. MassQing derives from a multitude of antecedent traditions around the world including Nigerian Masquerade, Surma and Mursi tribal body painting, Native American Pow Wow, Chinese Opera and many others that have been around since humanity’s inception. –Month of the MassQ, 2011

MassQing involves artist collaboration/interaction. The MassQ (“Masque”) is a form of body decoration that uses the face as a canvas. MassQ is spelled m-a-s-s-q to differentiate it from “mask” mainly because its purpose is not to conceal one’s identity, or assume the identity of another, but to reveal the essence of the wearer in the moment it is created. In Shake Sanford travels with Ricardo to favelas in Sao Paulo and the ocean. In the final scene, Ricardo is transformed into a silver-colored avatar. Swarte Vulpescu Olaru’s body (avatar) becomes a painting based on abstract/cultural heritage-based designs. Yung Jake’s avatar is activated by a mobile augmented reality (AR) application.

Wangechi Mutu. Various collages on medical diagrams (2005). Courtesy The Saatchi Gallery (London).

Wangechi Mutu. Various collages on medical diagrams (2005). Courtesy The Saatchi Gallery (London).

I want participants to play with this idea of essence, or the properties of something without which it would not exist. Specifically I am thinking of genetics, or what Sturken and Cartwright (2009) describe as the “metaphors of maps, blueprints, instructions, and codes of life” that are products of this domain that constructs the “truth” of the body as a secret that science cannot readily see.” This is where science or what Dr. Ruha Benjamin refers to as Sankofa science (“participatory science”) can overlap with massquing, masking and avatars in art.

Swarte Vulpescu Olaru. "Equilibrium," 2012. Courtesy the artist.

Swarte Vulpescu Olaru. “Equilibrium,” 2012. Courtesy the artist.

Yung Jake. "Augmented Real," 2013. Photo by Nettrice Gaskins, Courtesy the artist.

Yung Jake. “Augmented Real,” 2013. Photo by Nettrice Gaskins, Courtesy the artist.

My idea is having participants create modified Personal Meaning Maps (PMMs) based on their own cultural/vernacular knowledge, culturally situated STEM designs and personal interests; then used these maps to create art, with their avatars, masks, or other virtual/augmented reality artifacts. These interactive STEM-based artworks will merge the physical and virtual, and can be used to create thematic stories or used as assets for games. To do this as part of a citywide event and collaboration with an interdisciplinary artist like Sanford Biggers would be amazing! Professionals like Sanford, Dr. Ruha Benjamin, Daniel Callahan (MassQ), Young Guru, and others place an Afrofuturistic lens on art and STEM by “re-contextualizing and assessing history and imagining the future” of people of color.

Increasingly computing shows promise of becoming the medium that could reunite visual thinking with manual dexterity and practiced knowledge. –McCullough, p. 50

While creating art installations in Second Life I learned how to simulate two dimensional images in virtual 3D space. This makes it easier to flow back and forth between dimensions when conceptualizing art. The goal of the STEAM workshop will be to engage youth in STEM through art and new technologies… beyond computing to include mobile devices and other things on hand. Ideally, the first phase of my thesis is bringing artists, researchers, STEM experts, etc. together to identify the common or correlating aspects of this knowledge. In the STEAM workshops these ideas become prompts to help participants create projects such as:

  • a STEM cell research mobile application to educate communities of color;
  • an art exhibition to build on The Art of STEM or STEM to STEAM movement in education;
  • culturally situated virtual performances based on 3D avatars whose texts (skins) are re-created by their makers;
  • an interdisciplinary art approach (framework) to address a STEM-related civic innovation challenge,
  • a culturally situated STEM learning game that uses art to teach students specific concepts;
  • and much, much more
  1. STEAM Workshop Ideas: Africa Atlanta 2014 | Musings of a Renegade Futurist | Digital Media Literacy + Cyber Arts + Performance Centers Connected to Fiber Networks | Scoop.it
  2. STEAM Workshop Ideas: Africa Atlanta 2014 | Musings of a Renegade Futurist | Technology in Art And Education | Scoop.it
  3. SWARTE inspires STEAM workshop ideas | SW-ARTE.com
  4. STEAM Workshop Ideas: Africa Atlanta 2014 | STE...

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