Bridging the Analog/Digital Divide
Hana Iverson, Director, NMIC
Innovation in media technology with a people’s face is perhaps the best description of the New Media Interdisciplinary Concentration (NMIC) directed by Hana Iverson in the School of Communications and Theater (SCT).
The NMIC brings together “analog” and “digital” approaches in a creative integration of pedagogy, art, scholarship, and technology in urban contexts. Analog is the use of paper, speech, and human interaction without technological augmentation, and digital is the realm of data where the information is augmented, often by technology, into objects of study. Iverson integrates the two into a concentration inside of SCT, where students can take classes that focus on creative practice in new media, as well as alternative new media classes in their
major. They can also earn a certificate in the concentration, which has been in existence for the past six years.
Iverson joined Temple’s faculty two years ago after working for a few decades as an artist in New York City, where she also taught computer arts part-time at the International Center of Photography/ Bard College Graduate Program for Advanced Photographic Studies. Her many achievements included the much acclaimed View from the Balcony, a multi-media public art exhibit originally supposed to be up for three months in 2000 that remained on display for three years and attracted 30,000 visitors.
Iverson’s work focuses on multimedia projects that evolve from photography to video to site-specific installations and networked communities. Her work developed from synthesizing creative approaches in single-channel video to interactive interfaces in interior and exterior locations and has enabled her to bridge borders other than geographical ones, as she attests when she refers to herself as a “technological immigrant, not a native,” when she describes her transition to the “digital realm.” Her love for collaborative work is marked in this period by her projects with Steve Bull (a media technologist in New York City), with whom she co-develops contexts for creative delivery of wireless applications. Cross/Walks: Weaving Fabric Row
A native of Chicago, Iverson grew up in Toronto before working as an artist in New York and coming to Philadelphia. When asked about the wind chill in Chicago versus Toronto, she says it’s a toss up on which is colder. She achieved her graduate degree at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, in the Interactive Telecommunications Program in 1998, with a focus on technology-based art.
Iverson filming the introduction of a Neighborhood Narrative
In addition to her teaching at Temple, she now works as an artist both in Philadelphia and in New York City. Some of her projects include Cross/Walks: Weaving Fabric Row, which will be displayed at the end of April of this year. Networked between the neighborhood at Fabric Row (4th Street between Bainbridge and Catherine Streets) and the Borowsky Gallery at the Gershman Y (which was formerly the Jewish Y but now part of the University of the Arts), it will be a locative project with cellular phone audio authoring and delivery between the location and the installation. One of Iverson’s classes will be involved in the project. The curator of the show has offered the Open Lens Gallery as a space for the class component.
Iverson has already made many innovations in her development of the New Media Interdisciplinary Concentration. It is an interdisciplinary concentration, which means it faces some of the challenges of such work at Temple, an issue which will be highlighted in future issues of the Herald.
The NMIC incorporates all of the departments in SCT—Film Media Arts, Broadcast Television and Mass Media, Journalism, Strategic Communications, Advertising, Theater, and the communications major. Students from all those divisions take classes inside the concentration. Most of the students are from Film Media Arts, Broadcast Television, and Mass Media as well as outside of SCT, from Computer Science, and the College of Liberal Arts. Some classes in the concentration have been collaborations with the Department of Computer Information Science in the School of Science and Technology to work out new media applications and develop creative projects.
The concentration is being redesigned because of opportunities that have emerged from participation by several star speakers. Ralph Lemon was one of those speakers in the academic year 2005–2006. He was also an artist in residence, whom Iverson brought to Temple to create a collaborative and open space between performance and new media. Lemon is an extremely well known choreographer whose interdisciplinary work includes his involvement in a ten-year project called Geography, where he took three research journeys through Africa, Asia, and North America (with a focus on the American South), to examine cultural conflict and self-identity and to gather movement in and through memory. That project was sponsored in part by Yale University, where he was an associate artist of the Yale Rep between 1997—2000.
Lemon is also part of the creative group Center for Creative Research, which consists of eleven internationally renowned choreographers affiliated with a new project that seeks to implement new strategies for artist-university relationships. The concentration also collaborates with other programs to draw stellar artists and speakers to the university. More recently, it cosponsored the presentation by famed philosopher, literary and feminist theorist Judith Butler, who drew an audience of several hundred people from Temple and neighboring universities.
Iverson states that one of her goals in the View from the Balcony project was to link New York City to its immigrant past. In bringing the spirit of that work to campus, she noticed that Temple already had an international network of campuses. So she created “Neighborhood Narratives.” It is a place-based learning model that uses buildings and locations in the city to explore creative ways of entering the city itself. The goal is to invoke the voice of each community, and the students’ relationship to it, through the use of digital technologies as well as a variety of analog ones.
Neighborhood Narrative Blog—London
The relationship between local and global learning is strengthened by working across Temple’s many campuses. This enables the course to be international and functions, as well, as a virtual interactive form of learning, which, Iverson hopes, will encourage more students to go to the university’s other campuses. “I am a huge believer in travel as a learning tool,” she says, “Models for peace and new social relationships are not achievable without developing an understanding of other cultures in a non-superficial way, which requires actually living for a time in other countries.” This summer, Iverson will be teaching at Temple’s Rome campus.
The students in the Neighborhood Narratives course are encouraged to bring their experience to their projects. These projects include a project in Philadelphia’s Washington Square Park, conceived and developed by Hsiang Chin (class of 2006), who is now a masters student at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Visitor reading a selection from Hsiang Chin’s project—Washington Square Park
Ms. Chin came to the NMIC with an interest in photography and a photo-documentary project about her grandmother. She noticed that each bench in Washington Square Park had a plaque memorializing deceased Philadelphians. Three benches had no plaques. She decided to dedicate two to the class and one to her grandmother, who, although still alive, is grappling with issues of life and death and cultural transplantation from China. She took an image from her grandmother’s home and created twelve digital collages on rice paper. On each she wrote the history of the persons for each bench and a poem for her grandmother in Mandarin on hers. She left them pinned to the benches in the hope that visitors would sit there and read them. She returned for several days to photograph and document what happened to the letters, who read them, how long they lasted. Iverson comments that the ephemeral quality of these projects is important to observe in how they affect the communities over time.
Another student, Keith Gettle (class of 2008), used the restaurant he worked in, which had mostly Mexican laborers who had struggled with English in a very demanding job. He noticed the disparity between their lives and those of their customers and decided to place the class in the laborers’ shoes by having them undergo a series of challenging instructions that also evoked mythic imagery. The instructors and students walked to site, which, if one does not know where one is going, is much like a maze. They weaved their way through the labyrinth of the restaurant using directions written in Spanish, which nearly none of them spoke. Arriving at the “inner room,” they faced other challenges. They were asked to fill out job applications in Spanish, after which the manager of the restaurant reviewed the applications to determine whom to interview for employment there. While waiting, the participants viewed a short film Keith made, called The American Dream. It featured the realities of and interviews with the workers in the restaurant. The aim was to give the students an idea of the kind of work they would face if chosen for employment.
The London class is taught by Siobhan Thomas, an adjunct professor hired by Iverson. It is directed by the SCT in collaboration with the Foundation for International Education in
London. The narratives there focus on Philadelphia students dealing with displacement while traveling in London. The work is loaded onto a blog—in London, Tokyo, and Philadelphia—and conjoined into a network of blogs where the links are established. The curriculum in London follows a parallel path to the one in Philadelphia.
Ron Carr, who is the Major Coordinator of the School of Communications and Theater at the Tokyo campus, teaches the program in Tokyo. Another project inside Neighborhood Narratives is the International Assignment, linking students in teams that email each other and select a theme that focuses on their city. The students take four to six pictures of themselves in their city, with ten seconds of taped or burned audio. A team editor thematizes the sequences and sound and makes them into podcasts. They are available for free as a podcast download on iTunes.
The international sites also utilize some of the speakers and guest artists hosted by the concentration. David Gordon, the internationally acclaimed choreographer and pioneer in postmodern dance and co-founder, with Yvonne Rainier and others, of The Judson Dance Theater, is an affiliate with the Center for Creative Research in NYC with which Neighborhood Narratives has established a creative relationship. He has been a visiting instructor for the past two semesters at the Main Campus in Philadelphia. He will be a guest in the London class. Part of the collaboration is to put artists and their thinking in the local and the networked classes so the students can benefit from this transdisciplinary project.
Returning to Philadelphia, Dell Booker (class of 2008) brought his mother to Eastern State
Dell Booker and his mother at
Eastern State Penitentiary
Penitentiary, where her father was incarcerated for ten years. It was an unspoken family story that Booker suspected during a Neighborhood Narrative’s class visit there. His mother works as a legal aide for a judge. The penitentiary invited the class back to present projects in Cell Block 8. Dell’s mother participated in his presentation. It was her first visit to the penitentiary. The students reflected on the impact of such a history on many families in the area.
It is Iverson’s hope that Temple will embrace interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary projects and focus on creativity and pedagogical goals that involve investing in the value of education itself, which requires Temple to take a strong role in educating future leaders in American society. She also considers play to be a creative learning tool that is often denigrated in educational settings. She argues that it brings a joy to learning and should be encouraged. When asked what she likes most about Temple, she immediately responded that it offers many opportunities for spontaneous collaboration between students and faculty.