[-empyre-] Beatriz da Costa - the early years

Robert Nideffer nideffer at gmail.com
Sat Feb 23 04:06:10 EST 2013

Hi Heidi! Thanks so much for sharing that. What a great post! I loved
reading it, and hearing more about CMU, what an amazing time it must have
been. You capture it (and the role Shani played, as well as her skills,
process and what she thrived on) so well. I laughed reading about “TnA” -
yet another thing I'd no idea of! Shani talked about CMU so often, and
always very fondly. I think a big part of why she initially chose UCI over
other offers she had, was that we'd recently hired Simon to come start a
new graduate program (eventually known as ACE - Arts, Computation
Engineering), and she was hoping some small sense of that vibrant and vital
intellectual community could happen out West. It never materialized to her
satisfaction, but that's another story, and part of why she spent her final
years in NYC, to be able to run into friends on the street, walk to events,
and be more easily immersed in art, culture and intellectual life.


On Tue, Feb 19, 2013 at 2:31 PM, Heidi Kumao <hkumao at umich.edu> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Hi all,
> I’ve been reading what everyone has written and became especially
> nostalgic when Antoinette was describing the Robotic Cello piece.  Shani
> (Beatriz) and I started sharing a studio at Carnegie Mellon University at
> that time, and I witnessed almost every aspect of that project’s
> construction and complexities…oh, the golden days!
> I will start my writing here by sharing some of my impressions and
> memories of Shani  as she was just establishing herself in the U.S. as an
> artist.
> I first met Shani in late 1999 at Carnegie Mellon where she was an
> exchange student from Aix-En-Provence finishing her thesis project (the
> cello) and I was a Research Fellow at the Studio for Creative Inquiry.  I
> was sitting in on Simon Penny’s course on technology, theory, and culture,
> which had an amazing array of artists, engineers, computer scientists, and
> other interested parties (including Shani) all joining into the lively
> class discussions. The culture of Carnegie Mellon’s art community at that
> time was incredibly fluid in terms of the art and technology crowd.  Potlucks,
> parties, and meetings at bars would always include a mixture of art
> students and faculty, as well as Ph.D. students in robotics, computer
> science, and AI.  It was a magical time to be at Carnegie Mellon as it
> was the home base for many great tactical media practitioners and artist
> collectives including: Critical Art Ensemble, Simon Penny, Institute for
> Applied Autonomy, SubRosa and other groups working out of the Studio for
> Creative Inquiry, a think tank for creative research . Working
> collaboratively was commonplace and we all seemed to share similar ideas
> about the function of art and the artist in society.  I say all this to
> frame the environment that Shani and many of us shared at that time, and
> also to contextualize what would become integral aspects of her working
> process.
> From the very beginning, Shani had an amazing capacity to develop complex
> projects with an incredible range of integrated components.  The cello
> project (like all of Shani’s signature work) required her to learn and
> master NEW knowledge/skills: the machining of custom aluminum components,
> the design of mechanical parts and custom electronics, and the programming
> of microcontrollers, to name a few.  (This constant drive to challenge
> herself to research and learn new bodies of knowledge *at a professional
> level* became a signature characteristic of her working process).
> The cello piece would not work without all of the elements working in
> synchronicity and she could design and plan multiple levels of a project
> simultaneously—on paper and in her head.  She made it look effortless:
> detailed planning, ordering of electronic and mechanical parts, learning
> programming, and finally, coordinating all of the parts into a poetic
> artwork.  As we were both in pursuit of knowledge about electronics,
> robotics, and mechanical design, we spent a lot of time together finding
> people who could teach us those things, teaching ourselves, and sharing
> ideas.  Nothing stopped her, or us.  It should be noted that while Shani
> was strong willed and driven to do her projects, she was also incredibly
> gifted in her ability to bring people together socially and for projects.
> She thrived in the company of other intellectuals.
> In 2000, we were booted from the studio we had been sharing on campus
> (“squatting” might be the more accurate term for what we were doing), and
> managed to convince someone to let us use a dirty, vacant (and undesirable)
> space in the engineering building.  We managed to neaten it up for a half
> a year and during that time we began thinking about creating our own
> artists’ collective.  We wanted a women only, technology focused art
> group. In the spirit of Carnegie Mellon’s cross disciplinary practice, we
> formed “TnA,” (Technology and Art, purposely punned, bad, I know…) which
> consisted of artists and scientific researchers in the School of Art,
> Computer Science, Robotics Institute, and Human-Computer Interaction and
> included: Sonya Allin (Human Computer Interaction) Alison Bruce(Robotics),
> Beatriz da Costa (Art), Heidi Kumao (Art), Anat Pollack (Art), and Brooke
> Singer (Art).
> This group developed our first (and only) collaborative project and
> exhibited it as part of the 2001 Sculpture Conference in Pittsburgh.  “Nomadika:
> No Strings Attached?” was a multi-part (again) project and live storefront
> installation that explored Wireless technology and Surveillance. We posed
> as employees of Nomadika, a fictional marketing firm. We collected data on
> our users and displayed it publicly in real time, as well as tried to
> inform the public about the costs of giving away personal data.  It seems
> dated now, but at the time, it was an exciting topic and I had a lot of fun
> making the piece collaborating with 5 incredibly smart women.  We
> performed, we educated, we critiqued. And in perfect Shani fashion, the
> project concept was addressed from multiple angles. From my perspective, a
> lot of what she carried through to other projects such as “Swipe” and
> “Zapped!” incorporated a similar approach. It was critical that her
> projects include interacting with and educating the public about a research
> topic, and critiquing socially accepted beliefs about science and
> technology. She did this until the very end.
> I will stop for now and let others have their say…
> Heidi Kumao
> --
> Heidi Kumao
> Associate Professor
> Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design
> University of Michigan
> 2000 Bonisteel Blvd.
> Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109
> hkumao at umich.edu
> Office: 734.763-0183
> www.heidikumao.net
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://www.subtle.net/empyre

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