Re-envisioning the Third Space

Seated virtually at the seminar table with Craig Saper’s class at UMBC

Today we find ourselves in the third space dissolving the boundaries between what is public and what is private, between what is local and what is remote, what is real and what is virtual: we have, it seems, entered into what I refer to as the post reality. As connectivity becomes more and more ubiquitous and as we are increasingly tethered to our computers and mobile devices, we often find ourselves neither in the physical nor in the digital worlds, but in the 3rd space: a simultaneous merging of the proximate and the distant.

As a result, we are participating in what Marshall McLuhan referred to as an extension of the nervous system, reaching into a fluid dimension where we are telematically connected anywhere and everywhere.  Or as Roy Ascott said: “The individual user of networks is always potentially involved in a global net, and the world is always potentially in a state of interaction with the individual.” We are, in many respects, participating in the realization of a fantastically conceived future – distributing knowledge and data freely and openly – as envisioned by the pioneers of computer science: Vannevar Bush, Norbert Wiener, JCR Licklider, Ted Nelson, Douglas Engelbart, Ivan Sutherland, Alan Kay, Tim Berners-Lee, et al, who collectively extended our memory, augmented our intelligence, envisioned cyberspace, and laid the networks, thus creating the globally connected 3rd space we inhabit today. But is their utopic vision of the information age at odds with the reality on the ground: the reality of peep culture, surveillance, and corporate exploitation? Can a free and open source information culture really exist as they imagined it? Can we possibly fulfill and sustain their vision?

As McLuhan once claimed: “The artist picks up the message of cultural and technical challenge decades before its transforming impact occurs.  He, then, builds models or Noah’s arks for facing the change that is ahead.” The history of communications and networked art suggest that, in fact, artists have been actively modeling, critiquing, and reacting to the complex issues of media culture. In a time when we are grappling with the ethical implications of the global village, when we find Google stealing our data, Facebook selling it, the NSA mining it, and cyber-hackers corrupting it, we see a crucial role for the artist: modeling the overpowering effects of media, humanizing our relationship to technology, exposing systems of control, etc., thus illuminating a better understanding of the implications of an increasingly mediated society.

In an effort to find new ways to engage the Net to position the artist’s relationship to issues of media culture, I began work on an educational initiative and 3rd space environment for teaching, research and artistic production: Open Source Studio (OSS). The project was first developed as a graduate course in the fall of 2012 at the California Institute of the Arts, Center for Integrated Media, and is currently being taught – remotely from my studio in Washington, DC – to undergraduate art students at the School of Art, Media and Design, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

This presentation concerns how Open Source Studio, as a 3rd space proto-laboratory, uses web-conferencing, an open source course management system, and social media tools to immerse the participant in a visceral experience of the virtual in the study of Net culture: as a way to examine the conditions that threaten to undermine the potential of the information society envisioned by its scientific founders. OSS re-envisions the 3rd space, so as artists, curators, media thinkers, and educators, we can in a time of incessant communications and mobile interactions, instigate new ways of thinking about and challenging these conditions.

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