MIT5: Towards a Culture of Collaboration

I attended this panel mostly due to my conference roommate (and one-time office-mate) Michael Newman (of zigzigger fame), who gave an overview of the Ze Frank phenomenon (here’s the full paper (PDF)). In case you’re not familiar, The Show with Ze Frank was an almost daily video webcast by the titular NY artist-cum-prankster which ran from March 2006 to March 2007, and attracted thousands of fans, who participated in many online (and real-world) interactive communities and projects inspired by The Show. Mike described the webcasts and the various identities it inspired in its fans (known as “sports racers,” or, if you were really cool, “fabulosos”), pointing out how it functioned as kind of an ongoing art project for Ze Frank and (more importantly) his fans. That’s “art” with a little “a,” by the way, which is how both Michael and Ze Frank would describe it; i.e., ways of creatively using digital tools and the internet to generate new forms and identities.

Working in a similar tack, Boston artist Ravi Jain gave an overview of his various online endeavors, which included an as-stereotypical-as-possible web sitcom (starring him and a few friends), an open-source cake (no, really!), and, most recently, Drive Time, a talk show (complete with co-host, his wife Sonia) done in his car, on his morning commute. Ravi’s interested in not only open source interactivity between artist and audience, but also in how affordable tools (e.g., small digital cameras, consumer-grade non-linear editing systems, blogs) can facilitate such exchanges.

This panel also had “Art” (with a big “A”) in the form of Wafaa Bilal and Shawn Lawson, known collectively as CrudeOils. Their works involve critiquing and reworking the idea of interactive art away from works based around common interfaces (i.e., a PC and a mouse) and towards modes of temporal and spatial interaction with and within artworks. Unlike the works of Ze Frank and Ravi Jain, Crudeoils’ works require extensive and sophisticated computer hardware and software, as well as access to resources such as gallery space. Still, it indicates how the idea of collaborative art takes in a wide array of practices and venues. Very fascinating stuff, all of which is described and presented on their website.

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