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The School For Poetic Computation

For the past 2 weeks, I was a student at the School For Poetic Computation. Equal parts artist-organized-school and artist-in-residency, the School was begun as a way for a small group of students and teachers to work together to explore the intersection of contemporary art with code, physical computing, theory and poetics.

Classes were held in New York City in the former offices of Kickstarter. Previously held in the fall of 2013 for 10 weeks, this was a compact super-intensive 2 week session for 15 students and 4 teachers, along with guest lectures by a variety of artists, creative coders, theorists, and social hackers.

School For Poetic Computation - Photo from http://blog.sfpc.io/

School For Poetic Computation – Photo from http://blog.sfpc.io/

Several years ago, I applied to several traditional MFA programs but ultimately chose not to attend graduate school, wanting to avoid both steep debt and the inflexibility of graduate programs that specialized in a specific sub-niche of art. One of the great things about participating in the School For Poetic Computation was stepping into a community of people that shared my interest in studying the intersections of art and technology and actively working together to experiment, to create art, to have fun with art and code, hardware and computing.

Over two weeks we had a huge amount of classes in: OpenFrameworks, building Mesh Networks, Social Automation with APIs, building a 1-bit computer, an intro to Node.js, scraping websites, how to make a living (!), building physical-digital game controllers, a history of poetry and code, a speculative history of alternative computer history, and lots more. I was impressed with my teachers and fellow learners, and got a lot of energy from what everyone was working on. It was an extremely supportive environment, almost a 21st century Black Mountain College-type experience. Many of my fellow students and I stuck around from 10am until 10pm or later every night as we worked together, ate dumplings, coded, debated, watched youtube videos, talked, taught and soldered long into the night.

Students were encouraged to develop questions of interest to explore, and many worked on particular projects for their 2 weeks, alone or in groups. My own coding experience is relatively recent, so I decided to concentrate mostly on working in Processing, the visual artist’s programming language and framework built on Java. I created a program I call the Textual Selfie Station, a program that asks the user to type their name in, searches for information about them on google, and then turns on the camera, creating the image of them out of text found in the google search. Working on this program was a huge challenge for me in a great way, and forced me to explore working with APIs, Bash scripting, delving into javascript, scraping websites, using extended libraries, as well as hours and hours of debugging. Throughout the process, the SFPC teachers and my fellow students became my collaborators, helping me numerous times as I got stuck trying to debug, or suggesting ways to improve or adapt my program. The 2-week program culminated in a big presentation and party Sunday evening as we talked about the school and what we explored and showed some of the projects we built and one of my favorite artist/poet/thinkers, Kenneth Goldsmith, gave a really great talk, a preview of a speech he will be giving at the Frieze Art Fair on Thursday.

Textual Selfie Station - Kenneth Goldsmith

A text selfie of poet Kenneth Goldsmith

In returning to Philadelphia, I’m bringing back lots of ideas from SFPC to support and extend our community at The Hacktory. I’m excited to take the techniques and ideas I’ve learned at SFPC to inform our new fellowship and artist-in-residency as they begin this summer. I’m excited to teach classes and workshops in techniques I learned at SFPC. And I’m excited to connect our communities together. As this nascent field of artist-theory-hacker-maker-learners develop further, we have a huge community worldwide, and it will be nice to grow and interact with our friends both online and IRL. -Lee Tusman

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