Terry recently gave a lightning talk during Champlain College’s innovation week event. He has shared his visual presentation and we have taken excerpts from his talk to share with you.
“Hello, I’m Terry Sehr. I’m an adjunct instructor in the Masters in Emergent Media program at Champlain, after having graduated from that program in May of this year. This is the story of what I am doing here.
Innovation is an emergent phenomenon. So aside from talking about me, I’ll also try to convince you of this statement, and show you how I see it unfolding every day at the Emergent Media Center.
And before I get into it, I’d just like to acknowledge that innovation may be emergent, but it doesn’t happen by accident. And three of the people who have made it happen for me are professors Al Larsen, and Ken Howell, and director Ann DeMarle. They are leaders and role models for me and many others.
How did I get here? After a 35 year career as an engineer and programmer in the computer electronics industry, my job was outsourced, which is just as well, because after 35 years I was looking for a career change. As a cranky old man with plenty of opinions to share, I thought the best way forward was data journalism. I could use my computer background, and tell stories with data.
So in researching local options for graduate study, I spoke with John Banks, the director of the MFA in Emergent Media program at the time, who assured me I’d fit right in. I wasn’t so sure, but it looked like my best option. And here is a gif of a data visualization project done in my first course, in the summer of 2014. This gave me confidence I could succeed in the program.
But as I started into the program that fall, I already began to doubt whether data visualization was the right vehicle for me, and I began to re-think everything, which I believe is not uncommon in these situations. And what I was thinking would lead eventually to my thesis question. I’ll talk more about that later.
For my EMC Fellowship, I was the project manager for the Sandbox Team, a group of undergrads inventing art + tech interactive experiences. One of the early epiphanies for me came at the end of the first semester when our team had two artworks accepted into a gallery exhibition at Helen Day Art Center in Stowe.
And each semester brought fresh ideas. I could see that there was something electric, not just about the individual students, but the combination of varied skills, powerful new technology, and an atmosphere of expectation for the unexpected. The new Maker Lab quickly became the center of gravity for the Sandbox team.
Our access to the Maker Space really drove home to me the value of prototyping, getting to know materials, exploration and iteration. Several of our artworks went through multiple generations, and through multiple students’ hands. Each iteration elaborated on the previous one.
My own MFA work began to follow a similar pattern of prototyping and exploration, although this was difficult for me at first. Al Larsen really pushed me to think with my hands and explore materials and forces through experiment. At the time I wanted to work in the purely physical world. But I was also using digital tools to fashion physical objects.
While trying to produce natural behavior in this wind-driven sculpture, I learned something important about materials and precision. In nature, precision either arises automatically from the laws of nature, or it is unnecessary for the system. To simulate nature, you have to strike a balance between freedom and constraint.
With each new project, the iterative process got a little easier for me. When working with light as a medium, I tried a variety of reflective and translucent materials, but I ended up really liking this 3M dichroic film. I used the Maker Lab’s laser cutter to fabricate various platforms for the film.
Pixel Cloud is probably the highest visibility SandBox / Maker Lab project to date. This was faculty advisor Ken Howell’s brainchild. By the time it was ready for ArtHop 2015, pretty much everyone in the EMC had worked on it. Publicity from ArtHop led to an invitation to create work for Burlington airport.
For my own practice, I was starting to focus on my thesis work, which was heavily media oriented, but with a strong interactivity aspect. I created Swimulation to try to share my own personal experience of the welter of digital media. Like swimming through a swarm of fish in a coral reef.
My thesis work considered media as our primary source of knowledge of the world, and of our own self-image. As I looked at how we use media to understand the world, I began to visualize media as a moving, shifting mosaic of memes and ideas. We pick and choose among them to build our world view.
My experience with the Sandbox projects made me realize that interactivity could powerfully amplify a viewer’s experience of an artwork, so I worked through several iterations of interactive experiences, collecting hundreds of social media memes, and combining them into animated, interactive mosaics.
We use social media as a kind of mirror. We project our self image onto the Internet through our social media presence. This presence is built partly on purpose and partly by chance. We end up maintaining and legitimating our self image by examining our own media presence.
I explored these ideas about identity and self-image by collecting hundreds of samples of my own presence on social media, producing an interactive mosaic that lets the viewer build a pretty clear picture of my digital presence, which turns out to be highly political. I expect a thank-you note from the NSA any day now.
It turns out that I love the theory. And I love the art-making. And I love the students. And pretty much none of those loves was apparent to me when I started the MFA program. But now that I know, as I’ve said many times to Ann DeMarle, I’m just going to stay. I’m going to teach and make art and live happily ever after. Thank you for listening to my story.”
-Terrence Sehr, MFA in Emergent Media ’16
Adjunct Faculty, EMC Faculty Advisor, Division of Communication and Creative Media
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