To help kick-off Walker Open Field, five guests from across the spectrum of art and ideas have been invited to share thoughts and pose questions on the cultural commons, framing a conversation that will continue throughout the summer. We’ll be posting our notes on each of these presenters over the next two weeks, and encouraging them to drop by Walker Blogs to recommend readings and other resources. The event kicks-off at 7pm on Thursday, June 3rd. Save the date!
A disastrous attempt to connect via video chat led us to a good old fashioned phone call with Jon Ippolito, who lives and works in Maine. Jon is an artist, writer and curator who speaks broadly about the commons, but also has deep experience in creating digital tools that facilitate collaboration across the web, and a networked approach to collective creativity and knowledge-sharing.
Working out of Still Water, a New Media lab at the University of Maine at Orono that he founded in 2002 with Joline Blais, Jon has had his hands in numerous projects that often work to promote network art and culture. Two of the projects he is conceptual architect behind are The Pool and ThoughtMesh.
The Pool is a “collaborative online environment for creating art, code, and texts.” Diving right into The Pool can be a bit confusing at first, but with the aid of this walkthrough, you’ll quickly learn your way around.
Projects are visualized on a chart with an X and Y axis. The vertical position of a project signifies its current approval within The Pool community. Once added, projects literally sink or swim depending on how they are rated. The horizontal position of a project tells you how many times it’s been reviewed. A project in the upper right of The Pool has been rated highly by a comparatively large amount of people. As you scroll over titles in The Pool, a short blurb about each will pop up, telling you the intent. Clicking a project brings up a dashboard where you can interact with the project’s authors and others in the community in a number of ways.
Jon has found that The Pool is most successful when there is a built-in community making use of it. At the moment, students from both the University of California at Santa Cruz and the University of Southern California are using The Pool to track class projects. Students from different schools have the opportunity to collaborate, review each others projects, and participate in the community as a whole.
“It’s interesting when you see these two different communities co-existing in the same virtual space. It became clear that students from the two coasts had some concerns in common, like Maine’s and California’s mixed records on same-sex marriage. At the same time, they had very different cultures; for example, the Californians misread satirical projects from Maine as serious proposals. Letting both student bodies interact in The Pool brought those differences and similarities into relief.”
ThoughtMesh is a tool for publishing online that began to materialize when Jon and Craig Dietrich started thinking about what their ideal publishing software would look like, if they could build it from the ground up. What they came up with is a tool that allows published articles to live socially on the web, articles can be distributed and published on any website online. At the same time, every essay, article, and document are connected to each other. And of course, it’s easy to use, easy to share, and works as a non-linear presentation tool to boot!
We thought it appropriate to take some of Jon’s work for a spin and create a ThoughtMesh document for this event. I’ve aggregated the five blog posts that introduce the five presenters for Thursday’s event here:
Once you click the link you’ll see document navigation on the left, the ThoughtMesh tag cloud on top of the main column, and below that an abstract of the event. You can click through the navigation and read any of the introduction posts in their entirety, or you can use the tag cloud to search all 5 posts by keyword. Click on one of the keywords in the tag cloud to see which blog posts have been tagged similarly. If you click on “excerpts out,” you’re still searching with the same keywords, but now you’re searching through every single document in the ThoughtMesh database. This is a great way to connect to other articles and essays you might be interested in. Jon thought this might prove a fun way to get acquainted with ThoughtMesh, so check it out and leave us a comment with your thoughts – he might even call out for feedback at the event!
A healthy commons needs tools that facilitate, connect, and nurture its inhabitants. Jon will be presenting these ideas, and more, on Thursday evening.
AN ASIDE: LEARNING TO SHOW OUR UNDERWEAR
When we talked with Jon, we also did a fair bit of shop-talk, which we really appreciated but I’ll try not to bore you too much with here. Our conversation basically boiled down to Marshall McLuhan’s mantra: The medium is the message. To what extent should an event like Opening the Field embody the values and beliefs that inspired the project in the first place? If Open Field is about opening up an institution, sharing knowledge, and creating a reinvigorated cultural commons in the Twin Cities, what kinds of tools do we use to talk about these ideas?
“Don’t show your underwear” is a saying that I’ve picked up from local projection art group Minneapolis Art on Wheels. While this is generally pretty solid advice all around, it has a special meaning in the world of projection art: don’t let your audience see your desktop, dashboard, or software interface.
When Works Progress co-produces large scale events like Opening the Field or 2008‘s Solutions for the Other 90%, we try very hard not to let our underwear show. We go to great lengths to aggregate the media content of all of our presenters into one seamless master presentation. We set it all up and we hit “full screen” and we cross your fingers that it stays in full screen mode all night long. In talking with Jon, it became increasingly clear that this strategy was neither appropriate or advantageous for this situation. Providing panelists with interactive tools like a Web browser might help them better respond to participation from the audience, as befits a program on sharing and the commons.
On Thursday night, we’re going to show you our underwear and you have Jon Ippolito to thank for that!