The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

John Kim, HMCS, on new media, the slums of Delhi, art and screen-less computers

By Hazel Schaeffer

The Mac Weekly: As newspapers suffer because of economic reasons, blogging and other non-professionalized sources of journalism have rapidly increased. What do you see as the trade-offs and benefits of that exchange?Prof. Kim: I’m interested in that development-not just how it impacts journalism specifically-but how it speaks to the nature of the transformation that’s associated with new media: the increasing distribution of media production tools into the hands of non-professionals. I can pick up my iPhone or Google phone and create content that 20 years ago would be completely unimaginable. I can become a producer, a creator of media, that just 20 years ago you would have had to spend tens of thousands of dollars on or had access to expensive facilities. It has [not only] impacted journalism but music, video and media creation in general. There’s the increasing facility and ability for people, regardless of what professional standing they have, to create media. . There is something quite productive and positive and optimistic that everybody can make the media that we once associated to be only concentrated in the hands of a few professionals.

According to a Mac Weekly interview, you are interested in opening an art gallery. Do you see it in your future? What is the relationship between art and technology?

My background is, in part, in making interactive art. By interactive art, I mean computer programmed. I made art that responds to somebody’s interaction with a computer in a space. I have a very strong interest in the intersection of art and technology-interactive, installation art.
I have been very impressed since I arrived in the Twin Cities-and I just got here late summer, early fall-by the art galleries and the performance spaces. But what I haven’t seen is a gallery that is explicitly dedicated to media arts, especially interactive media arts. I thought that since I was looking for a place to live, it would be easy for me to find a storefront or a gallery space that I could open up-a media arts gallery. I know a lot of people, not just in the Twin Cities, but both on the West coast and on the East coast that do this kind of artwork. It would be easy to curate and bring together lots of artworks in the genre. I’m still looking, I’ve learned that nobody buys or sells spaces in the winter, so it grinds to a halt. . I was hoping that it was going to happen in the fall but I imagine that it’s going to happen sometime over the summer.

You traveled to India last year for a social justice project. What type of work did you do there? Why is it important that everyone gets to “tell their story,” as you’ve said in the past?

It was a collaborative project with an organization based in Delhi called Sarai. They are involved with a whole bunch of media and social justice programs. One of their most famous programs is Cybermohalla. They set up autonomous media labs within various slums throughout Delhi. It’s a project around civic engagement and community media. They bring in kids from the slums and teach them how to use media production equipment-video cameras, audio recorders-and how to use software to edit the material and engage them in a process of having them tell their own stories. It’s less about the whole skills training, though that’s part of it, but they are mainly interested in the sense of empowerment that kids get when they get to tell their own stories about living in slums.

What is so empowering about working with new media? Is it having an audience?

For the Sarai kids, I think it [was] part of this participatory process. They can be equipped with the tools with which to tell their own stories, and they are also put into an educational setting where people are encouraging them. They could have done it just with writing, and [Sarai] actually does engage them with writing poetry as well. When it comes to their work in the slums of Delhi, I don’t think there is anything in particular with the media there that is more empowering than if they worked with text. But then again, maybe the kids wouldn’t have been as interested in working with these autonomous media labs if they weren’t going to be able to use video cameras and audio recorders.

We all know that developments in media technology have transformed politics. How has new media changed everyday life?

The question is: how hasn’t it changed everyday life? For me now it’s: when can I find moments where I can turn everything off? The important moments for me during the course of the day are those thirty minutes when I’m completely offline. . You’re completely bombarded from morning to night by incoming texts, e-mail, cell phone calls. It’s a constant, constant bewildering situation where you’re always online. . I was in college when e-mail exploded. It has just radically reshaped the nature of communication and contact for people. I imagine before new media and before the Internet, you had a lot more times when you had a sense of your own solitude, even if you weren’t in the woods, like on campus, you didn’t have to constantly be in contact with other people.

What is an information society? Are we in one?

There are many different understandings of the term “information society.” It kind of goes back to what I was saying earlier. There are some people that want to say that new media is about the invention of a set of technologies that are generally associated with computers, and there are other people that want to say that it’s a trajectory, that it’s been a longer historical transformation that’s been occurring over the past 100 years. People that insist on the idea of the information society fall in the latter camp. They are interested in how the Internet and global communication technologies illustrate that we live in a kind of society where you have immediate, instantaneous, global contact. Information society is an attempt to indicate that there [have] been these monumental shifts in social, cultural, economic and technological domains over the past 60 odd years. . Yeah, I guess we’re in it.

Why are people interested in blogging?

I think, by nature, human beings are creative. We just want to make; we want to do; we want to share. Twenty years ago you could make your own ‘zine-you would go and photocopy it and leave it on street corners, or you could telephone call all your friends. There were such limited modes of self-expression in comparison to where we are as a society today.

With the Internet, and with blogs, it is just so easy to make something and potentially have billions of people encounter something that you have created. In part I would talk about it as a technological shift. The reason why blogs seem so unique and so interesting is that the technologies around it are relatively new. At the same time… we’ve always wanted to be able to share and be creative, but we just haven’t had the venues or pathways to do it.

Technological advances seem to be occurring at an exponential rate. Will this trend continue? Is there an infinite capacity for technology to develop?

I think there are definite limits to technology. I think that interfacing directly with the human mind-being able to plug in your mind to the computer-as one of the science fiction dreams of what a computer can potentially do in the future, like downloading consciousness into a computer, I don’t think that’s around the corner. But I think that in the next ten, 15 years, there’s going to be really interesting, mind-blowing technological transformations that we’re not expecting right now.

Some of my work is about thinking about some of these technologies that are around the corner. I’m writing a lot about new kinds of computer interfaces. Right now you interact with computers primarily on screens. I’m interested in a technology called augmented reality-basically being able to do projections of computer generated information directly into people’s field of vision. One way of doing that would be to have special glasses where computer infor
mation is being projected onto eyeglasses so that you can actually see your physical environment but simultaneously call up all of this information onto it.

So I could see a ball in front of me if I wanted?

Yes. It could even be more practical. Like sitting in this office you could be, “Where’s my book Empire by Hardt and Negri?” And your glasses would be able to find it, maybe highlight it in that physical space. I could be sitting here looking at you and reading information about you like browsing your Facebook page, where you’re from, what your GPA is, what your Social Security is. I could be browsing all of the information available on the Internet and looking at you . simultaneously.

We’ve been preoccupied with the screen as an interface technology for a hundred years. There was film, television, the computer screen. [The screens] have always assumed a static, stationary object that sort of sits there in front of you and you interact with it and it commands your attention. I think this augmented reality technology is right around the corner. Already there are iPhone apps that allow you to do really primitive mock-ups of it. But these glasses are being developed by the military and by commercial companies. Once these hit the market and become sophisticated enough, we will see really weird and dramatic transformations. …

I mean the Internet is crazy enough; imagine if you had the Internet everywhere distributed in physical space. It’s going to radically reshape the nature of entertainment as well. . What would Halo 3 look like if you were actually playing it on augmented reality glasses?

What current projects are you working on?

My art projects right now are actually using augmented reality technology. I’m interested in doing installations involving augmented reality that enable people to see things in their shared physical environment that they might have not seen or recognized before. With video games and Internet you are often playing around with completely virtual, non-existent objects. I think what is really fascinating about augmented reality technology is that it’s kind of the reverse of that thing. You can actually get people to go out into shared physical space and have them interact with the ground, the actual ground, in ways that allow them to rediscover what it means to be physical material beings and not bound to their armchair playing Halo 3, in a darkened cave that has no relationship to the external world.

Does this interactive art redefine artist and viewer in that the viewer is also creating, not just observing or consuming?

That’s been a long tendency within art that you don’t just want art that has people sit in a chair and look at it. … [You want] the audience to be active participants in the creation of the artwork. That’s not solely constrained to media art; there is all kinds of performance art where you go out and have the audience do something, [like] an action, and that becomes part of the artwork. Even though people think about new media as being active media, I think a lot of the things we associate with new media relied on earlier developments around thinking about what it means to be interactive.

[email protected]

View Comments (7)
More to Discover

Comments (7)

All The Mac Weekly Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • L

    Liam JohnstonSep 11, 2019 at 4:46 pm

    Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Many thanks for supplying these details.

  • A

    Alison ScottSep 10, 2019 at 10:57 am

    Thanks for this wonderful article. One other thing is that almost all digital cameras arrive equipped with a zoom lens that permits more or less of that scene to become included by means of ‘zooming’ in and out. All these changes in focus length are usually reflected within the viewfinder and on massive display screen on the back of this camera.

  • J

    Justin YoungSep 6, 2019 at 6:12 pm

    Hey! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us so I came to look it over. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Fantastic blog and superb design and style.