Open Source Studio: a Telematic Educational Project




Begun in 2012 in collaboration with the California Institute of the Arts, Center for Integrated Media, Open Source Studio (OSS) is an entirely new approach to studio practice and online education in the new media arts. The online project is intended as an immersion in the study of Internet art and culture, in which students are invited to participate in an experience that encourages collaboration and transparency in the educational process. Unlike the traditional, hierarchical relationship between faculty and student, OSS is intended as a many-to-many exchange of knowledge and information amplified by the possibilities inherent in the network. The software environment, customized specifically for this course, has been designed to record, document, archive, and index the intricate and complex process of engaging in critical dialogue and creating new work. OSS extends the notion of the virtual studio through the use of Web tools and social media, enabling students to participate in a creative process that is rich in possibilities for research, documentation, and artistic production.



“In the telematic culture, pluralism and relativism shape the configuration of ideas – of image, music, and text – that circulate in the system.” – Roy Ascott

In this age of pervasive networked communications and social media, I felt my teaching could be updated to more fully engage students in the study of new media art. The idea of recalibrating my practice as both an artist and educator to more fully embrace the network, emerged from the observation that online education was becoming a vital means for innovation in the classroom.

Furthermore, I had just completed a large-scale performance project, A Season in Hell, at the 2010 ZERO1 Biennial in San Jose, California. From this experience, working in the highly resource-intensive environment of the theatrical space, I had come to the conclusion that in the 21st century there were new ways to utilize the network to advance live performance. After the production, I returned to Washington, DC and began an ambitious project to reconfigure my studio for Internet broadcasting.


Figure 1 – The artist’s studio as performance space

I transformed the space of the studio into a stage set and began work on The Post Reality Show, a project that focuses on the dissolving separation between the virtual and the real in contemporary culture. I was also interested in the idea of collapsing the distance between artist and viewer, developing a system for audio-visual performance that could be staged live via the Internet.


Figure 2 – Live audio-visual mixing for net broadcast

My studio became a theatrical space, and as a long time educator who considers standing in front of a class an act of performance, it was a natural progression to consider the studio as a stage for online teaching. After conducing a series of artist interviews for The Post Reality Show via Skype and Livestream, I began to think about how net broadcasting techniques and the integration of video-conferencing could create a richer more engaging experience for students in the live, virtual classroom.


Figure 3 – Artist interview recorded via Skype with guest Hasan Elahi

OSS at CalArts

I was invited by Tom Leeser in early 2012, director of the CalArts Center for Integrated Media, to create a new course that drew from these aspirations to challenge the conventions of studio practice and online teaching.  CalArts was the ideal venue to begin the OSS project – my alma mater where I received my MFA in Music Composition – an institution that is renowned for encouraging a culture of experimentation and expanding the boundaries of discipline and media. Although I was at CalArts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the graffiti corridors still survive, a trademark of the radical culture of the Institute.


 Figure 4 – Graffiti art in the sub-level at CalArts

Together with Tom Leeser and faculty member / software designer Nathan Ruyle, we began working on an approach to teaching media art remotely as a graduate course, Open Source Studio, for the fall semester of 2012. The central concept of the course was to provide CalArts students, all of whom were in residence at the Institute, a visceral experience of the virtual, that is, an immersion in net art and culture through study in the medium itself. Students from the various disciplines at CalArts (music, art, dance, theater, and film) were engaged in weekly, telematic sessions via Adobe Connect, video-conferencing software used to host lectures, discussion, presentation, and chat. These live sessions focused on topics ranging from the history of networked art to issues of privacy, surveillance, distributed presence, and virtual identity.


 Figure 5 – Discussing the history of telematic art via Adobe Connect

Virtual Critique via Skype

I also held weekly virtual studio critiques via Skype, in which students participated from their studios to address issues specifically related to their ongoing projects.  Skype sessions facilitated private one-on-one conversations in which students discussed and presented their work in the form of physical objects, digital media on their desktop, or in some cases, performance actively demonstrated in the studio.


 Figure 6 – Dance student Daniel Charon demonstrating movement via Skype

Another student, Peiyi Wong, a set designer from the Theater School, created a physical model for the OSS exhibition, in which via Skype, she presented the organization of the show and its layout.


 Figure 7 – Theater student Peiyi Wong discussing her exhibition model via Skype

The OSS WordPress Site

At the heart of the OSS experience, the course was intended to encourage and inspire collective learning, research, documentation, and production. For this purpose, we created a WordPress site that served as virtual studio space and a dynamic database. The OSS site was a multi-author system, in which all 11 students were provided with accounts for posting and sharing their work, engaging in asynchronous online discussion, and participating in social media feeds. The system tracked who was on-line to encourage students to activate live chat sessions, as well as displaying ongoing social interaction via Twitter, image contributions to the OSS Flickr feed, discussion forum activity, etc.: all displayed in real-time on the home page.


 Figure 8 – Home page of the OSS Website

The real-time nature of the site and its incorporation of social media and live communications was an ideal environment for encouraging students to integrate net tools into their everyday practice, to fold their social interactions into the course for purposes of critical examination, and to engage collaboratively with other students. The collective experience of social media, along with the integrated WordPress architecture, was fully consistent with the philosophy of CalArts, which has historically encouraged interdisciplinarity and collaboration by placing all the arts within one physical building.


 Figure 9 – OSS Twitter feed

Through the use of Web tools and social media, Open Source Studio aspires to create a more cooperate environment for artistic production, such that research and work can be readily documented, shared, and archived. These collaborative relations are crucial to the creative process, as the cooperative search for knowledge can be a significant aspect of the work itself. Documenting the creative process online encourages transparency and openness, much like shared studio space in the physical environment.


 Figure 10 – OSS blog post of student research

Documenting and archiving work online was an important means of encouraging an online process of project development and critical self-examination. Students used the full gamut of Web tools to produce a “project hyperessay,” in which through writing and media documentation (video, image, sound, etc.), they carry out the conceptualization of their work in full view of other students on the OSS site.


 Figure 11 – Project hyperessay by Colin Honigman documenting work for the final project

Due to the fact that posting, tagging and media archiving is aggregated within a single multi-author Website, online methodologies, such as the tag cloud, provide a real-time snapshot that tracks the creative process of all students in Open Source Studio. Note the word “collective” is the most commonly used word in the CalArts tag cloud.


Figure 12 – OSS tag cloud

Contributions to social media feeds, such as the OSS Flickr group, shifts the emphasis away from the solitary nature of individualized studio work, to one that involves an “intertwingling” of ideas, aspirations, imagery, and artistic production.


 Figure 13 – OSS Flickr Feed

Asynchronous online discussion also takes place within the OSS WordPress site, using the BuddyPress plugin, where students engage in discourse covering a range of issues drawn from course topics, student work, live discussion, readings, etc. Since the discussion is situated in WordPress, each post is indexed for future retrieval, meaning every response can be accessed from a unique URL via the public space of the Web. Unlike proprietary, closed systems such as Blackboard, students can access their work years later for purposes of reference and publication.


 Figure 14 – Online discussion forum

The idea of a studio process, open and transparent to the Web, follows the spirit of open source philosophy, in which the free and open contribution to the general knowledge serves to benefit the field at large. The OSS concept is focused on the idea of education as open source. Everything on the site is available to the public. Even the live Adobe Connect sessions are recorded and made available publicly via the OSS WordPress site.


 Figure 15 – Adobe Connect session with student presentation and live chat

The live, virtual classroom of Adobe Connect

Adobe Connect web-conferencing software was used for weekly lectures, student presentation of work, and live chat. Adobe Connect integrates video-conferencing, Powerpoint presentations, video and audio files, together with real-time chat functions as multi-layered discourse. It is a dynamic space that is essential for teaching studio art and can rival the dynamics of a physical seminar. Adobe Connect also opened up the course to a larger arena of participants, by accommodating guest artists, curators, and scholars in the field of new media. Throughout the semester, I brought in speakers from the US, Europe and Asia. The ease with which guests can participate in the virtual classroom is a powerful way of extending and enriching the experience of an online (or on-ground) course. Among our guests were New York-based artist Robert Whitman and historian Julie Martin, founding members of E.A.T. (Experiments in Art  & Technology), the seminal organization from the 1960s, which led to a lively discussion concerning collaboration between the artist and engineer.


 Figure 16 – Session with guest speakers Robert Whitman, Julie Martin, and Shawn van Every

For the next Adobe Connect session with guest speakers, I invited a group of composers and artists who have pioneered forms of networked performance. These included: Vibeke Sorensen, chair of the School of Art, Design, and Media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, UC San Diego music faculty Rand Steiger and Miller Puckette, and CalArts Dean of Music David Rosenboom.

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 Figure 17 – Session on networked performance with David Rosenboom’s documentation

Another of our Adobe Connect sessions featured the London-based alternative arts organization, directed by Marc Garrett and Ruth Catlow, well known internationally for hosting networked exhibitions, projects, and performances. They discussed their peer-to-peer approach to arts organization, how they coordinate collaborative projects with a network of like-minded artists. The event brought together a group of new media artists who are actively part of the Furtherfield family of net practitioners: Annie Abrahams, Andy Deck, Helen Varley Jamieson, and Nathaniel Stern. Abrahams, whose work is focused on cyber-performance, led the group in a spontaneous cyber-happening via Adobe Connect.


 Figure 18 – A cyber-happening led by performance artist Annie Abrahams

The OSS Exhibition

For the OSS Exhibition at the end of the semester, we transformed the Integrated Media Lab at CalArts into a “third space,” staging student works that explored the integration of physical and virtual presence. The idea of the Open Source Studio show was to create a richly-networked space for interactive communications: a 3rd space for dialogue and social interaction. Each of the students in the course created an installation or a Web-based project that critiqued and analyzed the conditions of an increasingly mediated society: establishing a laboratory for engaging the network and dissecting its effects within the context of artistic activity.


 Figure 19 – Viewer interaction at the OSS Exhibition held in the Integrated Media Lab

A project by theater student Peiyi Wong, whose Tel-é-tea installation joined two halves of a circular table that united the Integrated Media lab with the Tatum Café at CalArts, linked participants via Skype in the hybrid, 3rd space of the real and the virtual, the local and the remote.


 Figure 20 – Tel-é-tea installation by Peiyi Wong

Another project by film student Diego Robles, used Adobe Connect to create The Resuscitation Machine, referred to as live cinema performance, in which participants improvise broadcasted imagery in real-time from the Adobe Connect cell phone app.


 Figure 21 – Adobe Connect live cinema performance by Diego Robles

A project by dance student Daniel Charon used Second Life to create Second Life First, a live performance in the virtual space, in which with his partner, Natalie Desch, collapsed the distance between CalArts and Seattle to stage a fully choreographed dance work.

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Figure 22 – Second Life performance by Daniel Charon and Natalie Desch


The goal of the exhibition, and the overall Open Source Studio course, was to find ways to embrace and model the complex mechanisms of mediated social relations via the network for purposes of examination and critical research. This requires a thoughtful and informed use of media to stage a broader understanding of contemporary conditions in our time of incessant communications and mobile interactions – to instigate new ways of thinking about and challenging these conditions. The function of the course therefore, to immerse students in the medium for purposes of critical examination, was an ideal way to engage issues surrounding Internet culture and its artistic practice.


 Figure 23 – CalArts student Jessica Li via Skype

In the 21st century economic reality of teaching art, of education in general, educators are forced to be imaginative, resourceful, and adaptable to an increasingly technological world. As art schools are facing the changing landscape of their economic future, they should rest assured, the future is not so bleak. It could be that the online experience might bend imaginative, inquisitive minds in the right direction, it might just be a new platform that dissolves rigid educational paradigms: bridging disciplines, cultures, and ideas in powerful new ways. Jump into a live video-conference with a virtual roomful of amazing art students and I guarantee it will turn your head around, ready and willing to face the future.


Figure 24 – A telematic toast with the OSS class between Los Angeles and Washington, DC

The OSS project is deeply invested in the social practice as a crucial component of how see ourselves as artists in the world (anywhere in the world), ready to work as an ensemble to bring about collective agency in a too often splintered society. If, like Marshall McLuhan said, the artist is a builder of models, then OSS can be thought of as a way of modeling the artist’s practice in an increasingly technological world. In a time when our political leaders are paralyzed and social progress advances in fits and starts, we find a timely role for the artist, inventing methodologies (even mythologies!) and new ways of thinking that might illuminate a better understanding of our mediated world, and to use the technological and social tools to make the world a more productive, inclusive, sustainable and creative place.

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