Network as Material: An Interview with Julian Oliver

An Interview with Julian Oliver By Taina Bucher. "I met the Berlin-based media artist and programmer Julian Oliver in Toronto as part of the Subtle Technologies festival, where he taught a workshop on the Network as Material. The aim of the workshop reflects Oliver’s artistic and pedagogical philosophy nicely; to not only make people aware of the hidden technical infrastructures of everyday life but to also provide people with tools to interrogate these constructed and governed public spaces.

Julian Oliver, born in New Zealand (anyone who has seen him give a talk will know not to mistake him for an Australian) is not only an extremely well versed programmer but is increasingly as equally knowledgeable with computer hardware. His background is as diverse as the places he has lived and the journeys it has taken him on. Julian started out with architecture, moved on to Australia to work in the field of virtual reality and as Stelarc’s assistant. He continued on to Gotland to work on the artistic game-development collective Select Parks before moving to Madrid and finally to Berlin, a city he continuously speaks enthusiastically about. Julian is also an outspoken advocate of free software and thinks of his artistic practice not so much as art but more in terms of being a ‘critical engineer’, a term that he applies particularly to his collaborations with his studio partner Danja Vasiliev."

Read the full interview here (via Furtherfield)...

Why don't I live in San Francisco?

Breakneck Prototyping With Microsoft Kinect and Pure Data Experiment with a variety of methodologies to create robust and complex interactive environments (games, installations, time/motion based etudes, etc.). There will be a lecture portion to the class giving an overview of precedent in computer vision, game art, mapping and re-mediation. No prior experience with programming necessary. The workshop portion of the class will be project based. Students will walk away with the tools, and a software toolkit needed to rapidly prototype multimedia works using the Kinect.

Instructor: Sofy Yuditskaya Dates: Saturday and Sunday, July 9 – 10 Where: GAFFTA

My network-broking hypothesis

I have been using the term ‘network broker’ to describe what I consider a new role for community media arts practitioners. This role involves mediating communities that are connected through computer and mobile networks. I am proposing that they situate themselves within these networks as a broker – developing and disseminating information, techniques and tools. As a router in a packet data network, brokers the relationship between data and its path, community media artists might find new ways to bring about social change by routing and rerouting ideas and resources through digital networks. The concept of the ‘network broker’ was gestating while I was working as a community manager at ABC Pool – an online community of media arts practice managed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. There were no precedents at the ABC for this type of online community manager role, which meant the small team I worked with were constantly evaluating our activities. After a while it struck me that the community manager role felt quite similar to the role of a community artist – they both helped shape creative projects and provided technical and moral support to a community of practice.

Online community management is a growing and developing role. It can be thought of as the web 2.0 version of the ‘online moderator’ – a role that emerged in the early days of bulletin board systems (BBS). The term community management is beginning to supersede moderator, as social networking tools enable the formation of online communities facilitated by key individuals who encourage a collective vision, create and manage relationships and manage collaborative processes (Anklam 2007). Jono Bacon’s (2009) The Art of Community, describes frameworks for planning, supporting and maintaining online communities. The strategies he advocates emerged from his experience as the community manager of one of the largest FOSS projects, Ubuntu . Topics range from ‘Building Buzz’ and ‘Communicating Clearly’ to ‘Handling Conflict’.

Although community media artists are using computer and mobile networks, I believe there is more scope for them to incorporate new modes of networked facilitation and mentoring in to their practices. My PhD inquiry subsequently offers the ‘network broker’ framework, as a way of situating these new roles and responsibilities. The ‘network broker’ proposition involves the community media artist developing tools, documents, routines, vocabulary and symbols to build and sustain networks of creative practice. Network brokers utilize the openness and flexibility of distributed communications networks to create a reflexive, dialogic connection with people they are trying to help. This is in contrast to the traditional ‘parachute in’ community arts model, where artists run preconceived projects ‘in the community’. Network brokers work with beta-testers, as opposed to participants. The beta-tester framework encourages dialogue, and explicitly situates everyone involved in a feedback loop. Beta-testers have the opportunity to change the version on offer if they are dissatisfied. Adjustments could come in the form of suggestions or direct changes to methods or materials.

My inquiry will explore the notion that when the beta-tester forms an ‘agile’ relationship with the network broker, dynamic flows of information are enabled that develop networks of practice. The notion of agile development has its roots in software culture and was a response against heavily regulated, micro-managed, sequential models of development. In agile development environments, requirements and solutions evolve as a result of self-organised collaboration. I am interested in agile methodologies as they create a wider scope for emergent behaviours, and the possibility of developing networks that encourage amateur subversions.

It remains to be seen whether my network-broking hypothesis has legs. I'll keep you posted once I get in to the swing of my fieldwork.

Ethnographic Fiction

Ethnographic Fiction and Speculative Design is a full-day workshop at the 5th International Conference on Communities & Technologies – C&T 2011, in Brisbane, Australia, 29 June-2 July, 2011.

This full-day workshop aims to explore how grounded ethnographic and action research methods can be transformed into fictional and speculative designs that provide people the kinds of experiences and tools that can lead to direct community action in the development and implementation of new pervasive technologies.