New Media Graduate Student Presentations

Three current DE students will give presentations of their research. We invite you to attend and participate in the conversation that will follow. Presentation abstracts below.

Naomi Elizabeth Bragin, Theater, Performance, Dance Studies, DE New Media
“Black Street Movement: Turf Dance, YAK Films and Politics of Sitation in Oakland, California”

Turfing is an improvisation-based dance originating in local street culture of blackOakland youth. YAK Films’ YouTube-broadcast ‘RIP’ videos capture turfing at street-side sites of death in the community. The site-specific dance-film collaborations critique Oakland’s unreported history of policing, violence and death, publicizing people whose daily reality constitutes these sites. Site-specific dance has often centered proscenium performers going ‘offstage’ to stage work in spaces then marked as ‘non-conventional.’ This focus reflects a tendency in dance studies to privilege non-commercial, individually- authored, concert stage performances as more historically legitimate and thus eligible for abstract theorization.

Hip-hop is an under-theorized dance form that is site-specific, by definition. Giving concerted attention to how hip-hop dance theorizes space through movement aesthetics, we can better
understand public space as an arena of struggle and difference, constructed through trauma, memory, history and kinesthesia. I use the neologism ‘sitation’ to investigate turfing’s collective kinetic processes that link site, movement, culture and counter-memory, questioning the discursive construction of institutionalized space. Turfers take space to address those passed from tell-able history. Within the contemporary moment of politicized occupations in a transnational collective imaginary, the RIP videos invigorate debates linking direct action protest, social media, movement aesthetics, collectivity and violence.

Andrew Godbehere, EECS, DE New Media
“On What Machines Can Learn”

Machine learning endeavors to describe objects (for example, faces) with a set of identifying features. Once learned, these features can be applied to identify future objects, i.e. faces in Facebook. “Learning” is a one-time up-front endeavor, requiring a lot of data and computation. Once complete, its application to engineering problems can be very effective, but clearly there are limitations. Criticism focuses on the fact that the “model” or identifying function that is generated provides no meaning or deeper insight. Further, learning collapses as an analogy given that machine learning happens once, and only before the system is turned onto its ultimate problem. Observations that fall outside the rigidly learned framework are interpreted rigidly, leaving in one example trees mis-identified as human faces of various sizes. Rigid mis-identification, the inability to proclaim “I don’t know” and to continue learning, is currently a major challenge.

In this talk, I focus on the following questions: What happens when the world is mediated by a function? What is made possible by the analogy, and what is lost in the subsequent collapse? Through examples from my work on a computer vision tracking system and a Twitter message analysis system, I explore the engineering applications, investigate the shortcomings, and posit future research directions towards more “intelligible” computational learning systems.

Bonnie Ruberg, Comparative Literature, DE New Media
“Writing the Virtual Body: Kafka’s Love Letters and Text-Based Cybersex”

Online sex has many forms, some more literary than others. Text-based cybersex, the internet’s longest-lived form of erotic exchange, takes place through simple chat. Two or more partners write their bodies into virtual intercourse, leaving behind a transcript of their encounter: collaborative erotica generated in real time. However, such transcripts rarely find their way under the microscope of literary scholars. These high-tech texts go overlooked because they emerge from a confusing (yet crucial) new realm of authorship and expression, one in which language, media, and corporality blur.

Cybersex might not be such a strange new technology, though. Even the literary purists can agree on the value of close reading Kafka — and Kafka sent extensive love letters over the years to his partners Felice and Milena. At a time when the high efficiency of the postal system was itself a booming technology, the melancholy lover from Prague wrote missives that, similar to cybersex transcripts, also conjure up the virtual body through text. Indeed, we find this same intersection of technology, writing, sex, and the body in Kafka’s, “In the Penal Colony,” in which a high-tech execution machine sensually and painfully inscribes the sentence of each condemned man onto his flesh.

By reading Kafka’s letters and fiction alongside a sample transcript, we can begin to fashion a literary approach to analyzing chat-based cybersex, allowing us to consider questions like: How is language forming the virtual body? How does text transform into action, words into touch? What does it mean to write a fictional self for the sake of real-life pleasure? How is presence constructed in these media of separation?