The ultimate meeting of left and right brain is happening at art schools where collaborations are bringing together methodologies from artistic practices to computer science and engineering.
Today, all arts – dance, film, performance, music, sculpture, visual, photography – are going through a sea of change. This metamorphosis arises from the exploration of new artistic avenues: endeavours that incorporate ideas from the sciences with those of the arts.
How are tomorrow’s artists prepared? How to teach media arts? And, what kind of training do the teachers require?
Two of Montreal’s English universities are at the forefront.
CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY. FACULTY OF FINE ARTS
The Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University is considered one of the world’s top art schools. It is the 3rd largest in North America with more than 3,700 students in 60 undergrad and graduate programs,
Indicative of the synergy between the arts and the sciences is the downtown EV Building: the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Complex. Here, cross-art practices are supported by cutting-edge labs and studio facilities. First-year students entering the Fine Arts programs can choose a range of hands-on studio and critical courses. Driving an approach to media arts, faculty members often suggest different kinds of concepts, inspiring the students to cross-disciplinary projects.
HOW CONCORDIA DOES IT
‘‘We are fortunate to be an art and design school nestled within a research university,’’ explained Rebecca Duclos, Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts (FOFA), Concordia University. FOFA post grads have the opportunity to create alliances with other departments, particularly the sciences, through FOYER.
At Foyer, students at the PhD, MBA and MFA levels share open-ended research projects from engineering and arts – seemingly disparate departments – often finding a common thread. Working together, teams submit theoretical projects for a $2,500 grant to cover expenses (but not fees to the students themselves). For Spring 2016, the Foyer jury chose 2 pilot projects.
In addition to FOYER’s ongoing ‘Meet and Greet’ sessions, which bring together students from science and the arts, Concordia has established a cutting-edge hub which encompasses art, design, culture and technology.
MILIEUX AT CONCORDIA
Taking up two floors at the EV building, the centre’s configuration is unique to Canada, with open studios and labs facilitating the flow of people, materials and ideas across diverse domains. Faculty members join grads and encourage media arts projects within an ever-changing electronic environment, with ideas from the sciences (engineering and technology) supporting those from art departments to develop new synergistic concepts.
TEACHING MEDIA ARTS?
Undergraduate fine arts students have the opportunity to learn from professors who are not only artists themselves, but who also have ongoing exhibitions locally and internationally. So, not only do teachers present traditional background training for the students, they also offer relevant knowledge of the art world. Teachers Ingrid Bachmann and Geneviève Cadieux, for example, understand the realities of media arts in the marketplace.
One driving force in ‘screenic’ arts (arts displayed on a screen) is the global popularity of video games. Director of Milieux, Bart Simon, (PhD), has a specific interest in digital culture – games and virtual worlds. In 2004, he launched the Montreal GameCODE project, a Concordia- based research initiative to examine the cultural impact of digital games. In 2009 he became the director of a new broader cross-faculty research initiative in Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG). Students from different departments can learn in his programs, benefitting from his success.
Students interested in textiles can work with Kelly Thompson, Co-director of the Textiles and Materiality Research Cluster. She encourages cross- overs between traditional and digital methods – taking one medium and putting / pushing it into another, i.e. designing the software to create on a digital loom.
Bill Vorn (PhD) teaches Electronic Arts in the Intermedia (IMCA) program, part of the Department of Studio Arts. ‘‘I show students how to integrate technology in their work.’’ Pivotal to 21st century media arts are the courses offered at IMCA: Electronics for Artists, Programming for Artists, Electronic Arts Workshop and Robotics for Artists. Recently Vorn exhibited at Montreal’s BIAN, the biannual Digital Art Fair, where he exhibited two pieces: Inferno and Mega Hysterical Machine. Inferno is a robotic participatory performance where the viewers are invited to “wear” the robots and be controlled by them.
Concordia just launched a graduate certificate in Innovation, Technology and Society. The program aims to encourage collaborations across disciplines and professions. Created by the Centre for Engineering in Society, it offers an opportunity to work with Concordia’s District 3, the award-winning ‘innovation incubator’ launched in 2013. Chair of the Centre, Deborah Dysart- Gale, sees the program attracting students from diverse backgrounds, transforming their ideas into business ventures.
McGILL UNIVERSITY. FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE
McGill’s School of Architecture’s Facility for Architectural Research in Media and Mediation (FARMM) is a research hub that unites students from different faculties with academic and industry researchers from around the world. It studies the use and development of technologies that re-shape society’s worldview in imaginative ways.
New technologies for design are discovered through research crossing different departments. This interdisciplinary approach promotes the adoption and use of new technologies for design. This year FARMM’s Little Burgundy Narratives drew on students from architecture, engineering, geography and business, who collaborated with the Topological Media Lab at Concordia. The project combined architectural and urban design research, new-media journalism, digital artistry, and multimedia experience design to create an interactive documentary / exhibition about Little Burgundy for virtual-reality headset. Outcomes will be installed, and accessible for free, at Salon 1861 in Little Burgundy by May 2017 as well as on site and through online distribution.
TEACHING MEDIA ARTS?
Michael Jemtrud is an Associate Professor of Architecture and Faculty Fellow in the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas (McGill). He is the former Director of McGill’s School of Architecture (2007-11) and Founding Director of two award-winning research labs: the Facility for Architectural Research in Media and Mediation (2007-current) and the Carleton Immersive Media Studio (2001-07). Crossing different scholarly arenas, Jemtrud is also working with Concordia departments – design and computational arts, dance, engineering, the John Molson School of Business – on the Solar Decathlon China 2017 competition, a diverse disciplinary collaboration.
Eric Lewis, Professor of Philosophy at McGill, is director of IPLAI (Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas). A member of Medea Electronique he manages the Koumaria Residency, an annual residency program in Greece, where technological expertise meets artistic creativity. Here participants in audio-visual productions, dance, new media art, improvisation and art installations attend from all over the world. Each year, 2 McGill students have an all expenses trip paid by a SSHRC Graduate Scholarship in association with IICSI, which provides financial support to outstanding students pursuing Master’s or doctoral studies in social studies or humanities.