Announcing the Spring 2023 BCNM Faculty Seed Grants

06 Apr, 2023

Announcing the Spring 2023 BCNM Faculty Seed Grants

This semester, the Berkeley Center for New Media was thrilled to support three faculty members in their scholarship through seed grants that will help catalyze their research in new media. We are excited to congratulate these amazing artists and scholars!

Alex Saum-Pascual

AI Critical Infrastructures

Alex's current book project, Earthy Algorithms: A New Materialist Approach to Climate, Capital and Digital Literature, examines the imbrication of digital technologies in literary production, looking at its engagement with concepts of environmental crisis, through a new materialist lens. Alex focuses on the work of ten digital artists from Spain and the Latin American Diaspora to examine digital materiality in relation to its physical and signifying strategies, as well as regarding modern abstract binaries that separate the Earth from its human and non-human inhabitants. Earthy Algorithms argues that digital technologies are the consecration of the Cartesian dualism that has propelled modernity’s exploitation of the Earth, and proposes digital literature as a means to imagine more liveable (digital) futures.

A key aspect of the project is to expose how algorithmic processes mediate every aspect of contemporary material life, yet they do so by incarnating the paradoxical binary framework above. They promote their existence as virtual, immaterial forces floating in a cloud of bodiless information, cleanly separated from the very material infrastructures that sustain them, which are, in turn, sustained by the destruction of natural resources and human life.

Alex is collaborating with one of these artists, Mario Santamaría, in the designing of a digital infrastructure tour of the Bay Area, looking in particular at AI infrastructures in October 2023. The rapid development of AI, and its massively popular adoption make this a timely experience that will bridge the gap between technology, infrastructures, environmental issues and art.

Apart from the intervention in the area’s art and technology scene, as well as campus intellectual debates, creating this infrastructure tour will produce important outcomes for her own scholarly project. It will inform the writing of Earthy Algorithms as it provides hands-on experience and research on the physical infrastructures needed to support our digital environments. Furthermore, it will also help her produce a poetry chapbook in collaboration with the Arts Research Center, where several area poets will engage with site-specific writing, addressing the relationship between land, (digital) technology, and poetic expression and experience.

Asma Kazmi and Jill Miller

The Missing Objects Library

In their research as new media artists and educators, Asma and Jill have found that commercial 3D image libraries (virtual storefronts with digital assets used in game design, Hollywood special effects, etc) almost exclusively sell depersonalized and culturally non-specific 3D objects for mass consumption and mainstream use. Employed across many domains, from VR experiences to corporate marketing, these models are conservative in form and structure, and anchored in a capitalist studio production mold. The limitations of the commercial asset libraries create a media landscape that reinscribes notions of false neutrality, reaffirming Audre Lorde’s “mythical norm” postulation, privileging representations of a material culture for the “white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure”.

The Missing Object Library (MOL) is a web-based curated repository of hand-made digital objects that fill a void in the existing offerings. The MOL disrupts historical gatekeeping by these “neutral” marketplaces by offering 3D modeled objects with an intersectional lens.

Arjun Appadurai asserts that human actors encode objects with significance, and that things retain the magic of their makers, handlers, and users. The encoded objects of the MOL are context specific, charged, and imbued with meaning because they are curated by invited artists, designers, architects, anthropologists, historians, and students who are asked to imagine a collection of objects drawn from their knowledge base, culture, kin, and life experiences.

Unlike the commercial websites, MOL is an open platform with downloadable models that accurately represents the world we inhabit. The project is not only meant to critique existing 3D model databases by providing an alternative, but is also set up in an economic system of reciprocity, as a gift, and as an event where technological representations of things are exchanged to produce effects. Finally, the MOL website will host a virtual 360 Gallery of Missing Objects with rotating thematic object displays/shows curated by Jill Miller and Asma Kazmi.

This grant seeks to cover the first phase of the project's study identifying gaps in current offerings.