[-empyre-] Accumulations: The Space Expanding Room (working title)
Catalina Jordan Alvarez
calvarez at antiochcollege.edu
Sun Dec 27 06:13:00 AEDT 2020
In mid-March, just as the pandemic lockdowns were beginning, two strangers
– Liz Flyntz and I– began meeting weekly on Zoom. We invited architects,
artists, and pedagogs from all over the world to discuss how to preserve
Antioch College’s abandoned art building, the only publicly accessible
building designed by media art and architecture group, Ant Farm.
We are now turning our months of meetings and years of research on early
media artists and experimental architecture into The Space-Expanding Room
(working title), a VR experimental film set at several connected sites of
past utopian projects, including Antioch’s art building. Other subjects
include a student-designed inflatable college campus building which was
destroyed by a storm in 1973, a year after its construction; a Frank
Gehry-designed structure which once headquartered an idealistic planned
city and is now a Whole Foods; and the Afro-centric Sojourner-Douglass
College, established in Baltimore in 1972 – originally as an expansion of
Antioch College – whose accreditation was recently revoked, and whose
historic campus buildings are now abandoned.
360 degree video allows you, the spectator, to “be” embodied in these
places: you can look around, up and down. But some of the things you see
will be unique to the cinematic experience: at sites where the former
architecture is no longer there—the inflatable campus, for example—a
digital model takes its place, and photographs on the surface of the
renderings create an uncanny experience. The narrator, Liz Flyntz, is
occasionally revealed: she is pinning notes to a wall, connecting the
current site to the next one to come. Eventually we find ourselves in a
Whole Foods that we find out is the Frank Gehry-designed former
headquarters of Columbia, Maryland, a planned city created in 1967 to
enhance residents’ quality of life and eliminate racial, religious, and
class segregation. We begin to move within the film for the first time—the
camera is doing a cartwheel—but in slow motion; we look around from the
strangest of positions. At the site of the former Sojourner-Douglass
College, architectural drawings and archival photos of classes and parties
have been digitally composited into the environment. Audio of an interview
resonates into the room—finally we locate the source of the sound in a
corner—if we look closely we identify a talking head on a laptop screen.
Later, in an abandoned art building, the entire space itself is split: we
are half in a 3D rendered archival photograph—the other half is the
present-day—students are using the building.
This project is a meditation on how designed spaces figure into idealism
and experimentation. Failure is an essential part of experimentation, and
in each of these attempts buildings and institutions did fail. What can we
learn looking back?
We are interested in finding even more stakeholders for this project: we
have frequently invited guests to our project meetings, and these casual
conversations have led to new connections and strategies to continue
All of these meetings have been online; to this date, we have met in person
only once. In our initiative to preserve the Ant Farm building at Antioch
College, we've been completely reliant on remote connection to the core
"nodes" of our collaboration and the broader network of archives, state
historic register commissions, and our interaction with those who remember
the building's construction.
Liz and I are invested in understanding the ethics of sharing work. We
coordinated a paid position for a student to take part in our collective
effort and were later joined by architect, Timothy Noble. Several months
ago we filled out “The Collaboration Agreement”—a questionnaire Liz
designed to aid collaborators in coming to an understanding about roles,
shared goals, guidelines, and ethics. We discussed the purpose of our
collaboration, the scope and duration of the project, and decision-making
structure. We also discussed the financial structure and how to add new
participants, as well as how to terminate the agreement.
In making this project, we remember and re-imagine a world, which in turn
enriches our real one. We are reflecting on previous attempts to
re-envision systems from the ground up. Examining this era of rich
experimentation inspires us, but also teaches us what we can do better next
Our thinking partner, Razan AlSalah, pointed out that much VR has regressed
the documentary community back to the very early problems of the colonial
gaze. We are interested in critically engaging with 360 aesthetics,
architectural renderings and perspectival epistemology. How could we
formally subvert this spatial language to question utopia?
*Liz Flyntz* is an artist, curator, writer, and digital experience
designer. She works with archives and digital tools to develop exhibitions,
performances, multimedia projects, software, and websites. Her work uses
contemporary tools and systems thinking to explore time, governance,
economics, communication, idealism, and futility.
She’s written extensively about early media art for publications including
Afterimage, Intercourse, and The Creators Project. In 2016 she co-curated
The Present Is the Form of All Life, an exhibition of the time capsule
works of Ant Farm and their successor group LST at Pioneer Works. She’s
spoken about art/science collaboration, media art history, and experience
design at ISEA, the College Art Association Conference, NYU, MICA, and RISD.
*Catalina Alvarez* is a Colombian-American film director and
interdisciplinary artist. Her films have screened at festivals including
Slamdance, Fantastic Fest, New Orleans and Palm Springs, and venues such as
the ICA Philadelphia, the San Diego Art Institute, the Museum of the Moving
Image and Arclight Hollywood.
Alvarez received her MFA from Temple University and is currently an
Assistant Professor of Media Arts at Antioch College and a Fellow in the
Film/Video Studio Program at the Wexner Center for the Arts.
*Leander O’Connell Johnson* was born in Eugene, Oregon in 1996 and was the
Printer’s Devil at Salt & Cedar - a letterpress studio in Detroit - during
his adolescence. His printed work has been collected by the New York Public
Library and Prelinger Library in San Francisco. In 2013 Johnson was awarded
a Knight Foundation fellowship to make a series of publications, 12 ‘Zines.
He is currently studying at Antioch College.
*Timothy Noble* is a Buffalo-based artist who works in a wide variety of
disciplines, including robotics, digital art, sculptural installations,
video, and print. Born in San Francisco and raised in the midwest, he is a
graduate of Antioch College and a student at SUNY Buffalo.
Assistant Professor of Media Arts
Schedule remote meetings with me here
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