Hyperrhiz 13: Introduction
Robert A. Emmons, Jr. and James J. Brown, Jr.
Exhibit Curatorial Statement
Robert A. Emmons, Jr.
James J. Brown, Jr.
When we first read the CFP for "Kits, Plans, and Schematics" last year, we were in the midst of planning the launch of the Rutgers-Camden Digital Studies Center (DSC). Included in those preparations were the early plans for the Rutgers-Camden Archive of Digital Ephemera (R-CADE), a collection of old digital technology that would be made available to scholars from across disciplines. The R-CADE does not seek to "preserve" technology in the traditional sense. Instead, it makes hardware and software available to scholars and artists who want to take it apart, remix it, and repurpose it. This is why the current issue of Hyperrhiz was of so much interest to us — it tapped into the exact ethic of research that we see in the most inspiring digital media work. This ethic of making and tinkering is what we hope to foster in the DSC, and that ethic is on display throughout the "Kits, Plans, and Schematics" issue. We are thrilled to have been able to put that work on display in the DSC during the Fall 2016 semester. The authors and artists that make up this issue have demonstrated that the line between "art" and "research" is blurry and that constructing physical objects and installations can be a central research method when it comes to studying and understanding contemporary digital life.
For a decade, Hyperrhiz has been at the forefront of digital publishing, bringing its audience rigorously researched, carefully crafted, open access scholarship. With this special issue, Hyperrhiz participates in what we might call a "second wave" of digital publishing, one that goes beyond the digital publication of scholarship and seeks to reimagine the forms and methods of digital research. By allowing the authors in this issue to publish that which might otherwise be seen as outside the normal scope of research or publication, Hyperrhiz has opened up a conversation about how "making" can lead to knowledge creation and about how we might reconsider our assumptions about the primacy of print in the creation and dissemination of scholarship. Obviously, this kind of approach is nothing new to artists, who routinely construct such objects and installations, but for many in this issue the venue provided by Hyperrhiz presents a brand new opportunity.
We had a two-fold aim in offering up the DSC as a physical space to display "Kits, Plans, and Schematics." First, we wanted to help authors and artists realize these projects in physical space. Hyperrhiz offered a venue for publication of textual material, and we wanted to provide a physical space for authors and artists to see their creations come to life. Second (and more selfishly), we wanted to offer the students and faculty at Rutgers-Camden the ability to see and interact with cutting edge work in digital studies. While we offer access to hardware and software in the DSC, our vision for the center goes beyond that. We want our physical spaces — a research space called the ModLab and a classroom space called the CoLab — to be gathering places for interdisciplinary work and play. "Kits, Plans, and Schematics" offered just this opportunity.
In addition to hosting an opening event for the exhibition in October 2015 (an event attended by Helen Burgess, David Rieder, and a number of the artists featured in the exhibition), we've also made this work available to classes here at Rutgers-Camden as well as to those who wander into the DSC to look around and explore. A recent visit by a group of students from a "Writing New Media" class demonstrates just how powerful this exhibition can be in getting students and faculty to think differently about digital media. Prior to the formal tour of the "Kits, Plans, and Schematics" exhibition, fingers were pointing: "What's that for?" "What does that do?" "Can I touch this?" "This place is from the future." Before they even knew what they were looking at, they wanted to know if they could "play" with it. And there it is. Play. It's important to what we are and where we aim to take the Digital Studies Center. For us, the DSC is equal parts philosophical and physical construction. It represents a way of thinking and making, and a place for thinking and making. It's what also excited us about the idea of a Hyperrhiz exhibition. In our reading, the idea of play is a central theme in "Kits, Plans, and Schematics." These are objects that are shipped out and are meant to be built, experimented with, and tinkered with, activities that might result in success or failure. This is also part of play. In the DSC we look for the questions and answers in failure as much as we do in success.
When the tour came to the question and answer period, the focus took a truly interesting turn. The "players" wanted to know the limits of the pieces in the exhibition, and more so, they inquired about the possibilities new tinkering and new play can bring to the works. They asked: "Can I use the body suit as a controller for sports video games?" "Can I use this augmented reality technology to give enhanced tours?" "What else can an Arduino board do, can it go wireless?" At the DSC, it's a rare occasion when we aren't presenting, displaying, or work-shopping an idea that isn't meant to be handled and taken apart. During events, we go out of our way not to talk "at" visitors — we always aim to make things as hands-on as possible. We are always asking: What can we build together, and how can we play together? In creating the exhibition "Kits, Plans, and Schematics" with the Hyperrhiz editors, we also get to continue to create with our campus community. This is evident in the exchanges we had with our "Writing with New Media" students.
But there's one final coda to the "Writing New Media" class tour. When all the students had dispersed, headed to other classes and meetings, there was one student left behind. His question was: "How can I be a part of all of this?" These works inspired him and had offered him a new set of models for making arguments and expressing ideas. The DSC is a place to explore these new ways of seeing, writing, and arguing, and "Kits, Plans, and Schematics" is a particularly striking way to demonstrate this ethic. For this student, the work of these Hyperrhiz authors called out for interaction and participation. What's most striking is that this argument is not made explicitly in text anywhere in the exhibition. Instead, it is implicit throughout the works, and the fact that this student heard that call is evidence that this issue of Hyperrhiz will be central in reimagining what it means to make, write, work, and live in a digital world.