Issue #164 - The Spaces in Between
We’ve had a wet and rainy week, the weather has been distinctly British, but the weekend ahead looks better, it’s going to be sunny and hopefully temperatures will rise too. This time of year, Pittsburgh becomes green again and although I haven’t had a chance to head out on my bike, I was able to brave football and rugby practice in my waterproofs. I could do with a big long cycle ride though.
I hope that you’re well, I know colleagues are marking work and tying up the loose ends of the semester. There have been more end of term events, shows and exhibitions. The University is a busy, one last hurrah before everyone disappears for a while, puts down tools, or in many cases retreats to desks or open laptops in cafés to write and plan for next year.
I have quite a bit of writing to do, and I’m catching up with a few colleagues before they depart. I have a conference presentation to finish up and some summer teaching to organize.
Teaching & Learning
It was the final week of presentations for ETC (Entertainment Technology Center) projects, and as before I am acting as a client for a project that will be in the Global Languages & Cultures Room. This new installation is called “Intertwined”, a location-based piece set around a projection, and a phone, just like the one we had years ago, set on a desk. The phone rings and you pick up, a voice on the other side explains that they need some entries for a book of conversations that they are compiling and if you have time, whether you might be able to answer some questions and tell some stories.
There are a series of questions, touching on family, loss, inspiration, and love. As you answer, you enter into a dream state, you see a landscape with a tree that blossoms as you speak, before returning the archive, a lost library. It is a fascinating experience, we’re asking people to do something that they may not have done for years, talk to a stranger, and tell them your story. There’s something in the voice on the phone that entices you to share, the stories are often short, and you’ll hear an example before you’re asked to contribute one of your own.
This is a piece that explores safe spaces, those entrusted not only with secrets, but with stories of who we are. In the US these days, we are losing spaces where judgement is suspended, where you are being listened to, without anyone needing to say anything back to you. If you’re never heard, then you become isolated and alone, everyone needs connection, our lives are intertwined and we need to listen more.
The team did a great job, their presentation was strong and they provided an immense amount of detail for every stage of the production process. I’m very proud of them, working with these ideas in a space like the Global Languages & Cultures Room can be challenging, much different from some of the other briefs, and an opportunity to work in sometimes abstract or exploratory ways.
Spaces to Connect
There was more amazing work on show at CMU’s annual Meeting of the Minds which is an exhibition of student work, that this year included work from IDeATe, which is the multidisciplinary program that I sometimes teach in.
I’m still not a huge fan of poster presentations, but I have softened over the years and often I just ask presenters to talk me through their project and enjoy the conversation that we have subsequently. This year I was a judge, but only had one assignment, to visit a student in Fine Art who has formed an animation club, where students can share tips and seek help. These sorts of initiatives are really useful. Again, they’re spaces where students can get technical support, that liberates instructors from providing deep tutorial type information, and focus on more theoretical knowledge, not so much the how, but the why of creative projects.
Just before I finish this section, I want to acknowledge that this was the first MoTM since the pandemic, and it is quite an achievement for this cohort to have completed so much good work and are starting to find their feet. I was interested in this video that suggests we’re not quite out of the water yet, but I think we’re getting there and I feel more positive.
Lost and Found
This is quite a moving piece about phone addiction and recovering from a heart attack. Obviously you’re realizing from the decrease of sketches in my newsletter that TikTok is eating away at my free time. I need to set some app limits at least.
Fun to see Amyl and the Sniffers as one of Jon Ronson’s cultural highlights, what a great band with an awesome front woman.
McGill’s Plurilingual Lab Speaker Series has been published as a playlist on YouTube.
Yesterday was May fourth, and I imagine everyone substack newsletter has embedded this video. It looks great, jumping on a trend, using AI, what’s not to love about it?
We traveled to Cincinnati over the weekend, staying in suburb north of the city, watching our eldest play in a soccer showcase over the weekend. The team won all three of their games, with the closest coming on Friday afternoon after we arrived. He scored the winner just before the end of the game and was elated, as were his team.
We visited the crazy emporium that is Jungle Jim’s International Foods, and stocked up on baked-beans, chocolate bars, digestive biscuits, and even some proper bacon which we had for tea when we got back home. Delicious. I’ve never seen anywhere quite like it, the Asian grocery section was incredible.
My team, Leeds Utd are in proper trouble and next up, City’s “Destroyer of Worlds”. I might just go and have a nap during this game and wake up, hoping it’s all over.
I’ve a busy week ahead of writing and a few meetings before summer teaching starts. I hope that I can sneak in a bike ride on sunday, it would be just what I need.