A series of short interviews with people who are active in fields where collaborative and peer learning play an important role both in the distribution of knowledge and in the development of their skills.
For this series, we ask everyone the same questions so that we can find and highlight their common practices as well as their unique methods in each field.
Who are you and what do you do?
We are Greg J. Smith and Alexander Scholz, the Editor and Creative Director of HOLO, a magazine about ‘emerging trajectories in art, science, and technology.’ We published the second issue of our magazine last November (which, among other things, broadly deals with the role of randomness in computation, culture, and the universe) and are just getting to work on number three. We also cover our field on a daily basis on CreativeApplications.Net and through the curation and production of international festivals and events.
Tell us about your field, what it’s about and what got you interested in spending the time to master the skills needed.
Our field is all about convergence, intersections, and exchange between distinct territories that are in constant flux. Identifying connections across artistic practice, scientific inquiry, and technological developments—all of which are moving targets—we are interested in nascent modes of creative production, art and design as ways of research and the inherent relationship between tools and aesthetics. Our backgrounds (respectively) are philosophy and architecture, and art direction and design so we come at this ever-shifting landscape with unique perspectives. We have to be agile, curious, and equally aware of new developments and the deep history that beget them. Mastering our skills in that sense often means admitting what we don’t know and then bringing in people that have expertise.
What do you think about the idea of peer and collaborative learning and how do you see it manifested in your field?
Well both artists and scientists kind of make things up as they go, they have to if they are treading on new terrain. Methodologies (both formal and informal) for sharing knowledge and disseminating new ideas have been blossoming, of course, and continue to be vital to our our field. Open source software is a great example, where communal labour is harnessed to iteratively evolve a platform (be it a CMS like Drupal, or a creative coding framework like Processing or openFrameWorks). The same philosophy is increasingly applied to electronics and the success of open source hardware platforms such as Arduino or littleBits have changed how people prototype and learn. In fact, education has seen dramatic change: not only can a YouTube search on the most obscure problem possible yield a ‘how to’ video (anybody remember Lynda.com?)—experimental educational models like the School for Poetic Computation in New York or the School of Machines, Making and Make-Believe in Berlin put collaboration, community, and punk rock DIY attitude front and center. In the same vein, prestigious research institutes like CERN or The Smithsonian have also begun to recognize the potential of cross-pollination and have initiated residency programs where artists and scientists collaborate—and learn—side by side. As stated in the editorial note of our current issue, this disciplinary “superposition” is a mindset we should embrace.
Can you share a personal example of how that form of learning and collaboration has helped you along?
Given our different backgrounds it’s fair to say that we’ve learned a lot from each other while “prototyping” this magazine into existence. Over the past few years we’ve cultivated a work dynamic where we cover each other’s blind spots quite effectively and the best ideas tend to emerge from rigorous (and sometimes heated) debate to be then further shaped and chiseled in tandem.
Having said that, HOLO has turned out to be quite the exercise in collaborative learning in general. While it was always intended as a research platform, we didn’t anticipate how illuminating (and personally rewarding) joint investigations alongside experts and luminaries from different disciplines would be. For example, our starting point for this issue’s thematic inquiry into chance and randomness was a curious mix of arcane references (a book filled with a million random numbers from the 1950s), various paradoxes (quantum physics) and phenomena (weather systems), computational necessities (cryptography), and a long list of wide-eyed questions (does everything happen for a reason?). Seeing our invited artists, scientists, programmers, writers, photographers, and illustrators respond and, each in their own way, contribute to an emerging tableau was an exceptional experience. The end result is a manifestation of everything we learned along the way. So yeah, we are fortunate to be able to ask daunting questions and then get some of the smartests people in our field to help us tackle them.
This series is greatly inspired by the excellent The Setup.
Also published on Medium.