Sunday, April 24, 2016

This is why you should be very skeptical about virtual reality reportage and hype

Update: the Chicago Tribune fixed this article (online) with the following:

"Back when I was in graduate school at Illinois, we did CAVE simulations," LaValle said, referring to virtual reality theaters invented in 1992. The name refers to Cave Automatic Virtual Environment."

And they changed the headline from cave to CAVE.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fire Burnt by Impact, season overview

April 17, 2016 - Chicago, IL

Fire Burnt by Impact, season overview
Major League Soccer - Chicago Fire, 1-2-3
By Andrew Oleksiuk

Chicago Fire 1-2 Montreal Impact
Chicago Fire soccer club failed fans at home in a disappointing loss to division rivals Montreal Impact. In the 4th home match of the Chicago Fire season Kennedy Igboananike scored first in the opening half. With a 1-0 scoreline at the half, Chicago Fire was feeling the heat from a solar spectacle over Toyota Park. Montreal equalized in the second half one of many shots on goal attempts therein, but was to be only a prelude to the disappointment to follow. Limiting the damage as Montreal pushed Fire to the defensive edge, Fire goalie Matt Lampson made some trademark incredible saves.

After an invader ran onto the field before the 90th minute, and with Monterrey security seemingly unaware of the pitch invasion until after a man was back up in the stands, the match play was officially stopped. A security melee ensued in the West Side stands and off the pitch, and the referee resumed play as 2 minutes of extra time was being announced at the 90th minute. Montreal Impact scored on the next play - a devastating extra time goal, Piatti, 90’+1, dashing the Chicago Fire’s hopes of earning even a single point in front of the home crowd. The Chicago Fire 1-2 Montreal Impact scoreline ceded three points to the Canadian side in the heat of battle.

Season overview (hex recap)
A sad end to a hopeful six matches for Major League Soccer (MLS) Chicago Fire, whose season has gotten off to a poor start. With 6 points in as many games, there were few sparks for Fire in 4 home and 2 away matches. A short season recap of the previous five games round out the hex:

Opening Day at Toyota Park
Chicago Fire 3-4 New York City FC
Early march brought NYCFC to Toyota Park for the MLS season home opener. This heavy booted affair showed offense prowess but very little defensive toughness. The bright offensive plays took the tiniest sting out a home loss to start the season. Nowhere to go but up.

1st Away match
Orlando City SC 1-1 Chicago Fire
Visiting northeastern Florida in March seemed like a weather upgrade for Fire faithful, and the team’s effort proved improvement was possible. Lacking the offensive firepower of the previous match, Fire fans seemed content with the away point, against he often greedy Orlando offense. Notably Fire played with 10 men for most of the match.

2nd Home match
Chicago Fire 0-0 Columbus Crew
Playing ones archrival often brings out the best. Not so in this tepid home affair for the Fire. While not a boring match, neither team logged a goal and and thus split the points. Lampson logged his first clean sheet of the season a beginning a trend which was to continue for three consecutive matches.

3rd Home match
Chicago Fire 1-0 Philadelphia Union
A home win that delighted the fans who managed to show up in the Snow. Fire. Snow. Fire. Snow. Fire. Snow. Fire. Snow managed to enliven this match and the home side to a lone goal that would win the match. Few fans saw it in person, as the dreadful weather kept many away from Toyota Park. The faithful however were rewarded with sunshine in brief intervals. Fire notched an historic home win, and first win of the MLS season.

2nd Away match
NYCFC 0-0 Chicago Fire
Chicago Fire visited Yankee stadium to avenge their opening day loss to NYCFC. IN a match the resembled table tennis at times, the pace on the pitch was spirited. Neither team netted a goal but each came away with a point. The Chicago Fire denied NYCFC a home win, and improved with a point on the road against this team. Lampson again logged shutout minutes.

With only one (home) win notched on the season, Fire off to a tepid start, to be sure. With 6 points in as many matches, Fire have fewer points than this time last year. With only 2 goals in the last four matches, Fire’s depth is questioned after proving they lack significant offensive firepower without Accam. While playing relatively well defensively, slip-ups at home led to a down note with the most recent loss. As a franchise, Fire have failed to snap their year over year away winless streak In the first Chicago Fire heat of the Major League Soccer season. Next match at home again v MLS Eastern Conference foes DC United, April 30 at Toyota Park.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ukraine and Ukrainians against the Soviet Threat

This is the poster for T. Mosienko's Library Lecture entitled Ukraine and Ukrainians against the Soviet Threat, in 1920s Berlin.

Click through the photo below to read the transcript on Zoe Foodiboo's Flickr page.

1920s Berlin Lecture Series:  Ukraine and Ukrainians against the Soviet Threat

Click through the photo above to read the transcript on Zoe Foodiboo's Flickr page.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mail Art: Archives, Display and Classification Methodologies

This essay is a response to Mark Bloch’s question “how to archive mail art”? Which I think is a subtly malformed question. Archiving mail art should never be the goal, at least not for artists. To put a finer point on the question, I think Mark means 1) how to display mail art, and 2) how to classify mail art. To elucidate these points, let’s look at some common mail art practices today.
The creation and display of mail art often go hand in hand. In the classic "mail art show”, the curator/agitator/provocateur names a theme and sets a deadline, advertises at the show by distributing a mail art call throughout the network and then waits for the mail box to fill up. Having made preparations for displaying the show, a gallery is filled with the mail art objects. Some sort of documentation of the show is sent to all participants. More recently, or when a gallery is not available, or in addition to a show in a gallery, the work is displayed in a web blog format, which can also serve as an instant archive.

Recently at Fluxfest 2015 in Chicago, Honoria Starbuck’s show KISS, was remounted from an archive of the original show held in 1990. This gave the public an opportunity to see a mail art show created for a specific theme (loosely: the AIDS epidemic, LGBT rights/pride) in a historical light. This specific timeframe also included and interesting set of early computer graphics and graphics arts tools, and well as postal history considerations.
So in this case, the show elements becomes the archive. But of course, not all correspondence art (mail art) is created for shows. There are many loose unclassified correspondences that occurs frequently by artists sharing their work in a less organized way. Because of the nature of mail art, the mail artist-sender surrenders his/her ability to archive the work, and is often reliant upon the recipient to do so. With the advance and ubiquity of digital tools however, I have noticed a rise in the sharing of “outgoing” mail art. 

So the question really becomes, how to classify sets of mail art objects, acquired by a recipient over time, perhaps decades 1) into a coherent whole, or 2) into interesting chunks for display purposes. Further, as mail art archives are acquired by institutions and institutions and open up these archives to researchers and curators, is there a coherent way to classify these moving parts, as they get further away from their natural habitat in space and time? The answer is yes, but it requires a look at how curators/researchers/archivist might look at a set of correspondences (mail art) and apply some rules of information literacy to the whole. In the process, we’ll take a hard look at how postal historians (philatelists) classify mailed objects from a technical standpoint.

A classic mail art archive, such as the one that may be piling up in your home/office/studio is there for a reason. These objects _have been mailed to you_ by your friends and relations. It also reveals a set of basic data points common to any mail art objects: the sender and recipient. In this case the recipient is you and thus all the correspondence sent to you has your name and address prominently displayed on the front of the envelope or postcard. Most likely, but not always, the sender’s information is there too. So the most basic method of classification is sender/receipient, or in the case of a personal archive as described above, where the recipient is always the same, by the sender. These can be organized by date, provided by the clear dated postmarks (thanks, postal agency!) also prominently displayed as the objects ride through the mailstream.

So this is most basic way to archive or classify mail art, by using the data present on the objects themselves. Mail artists are fascinated by this systems art, so we should embrace that logic. But we are also fascinated by the many hiccups and errors that can occur and ultimately this basic methodology isn’t potentially that interesting. As archives get acquired and mixed into or paired with other archives some complexity sets in. The question then changes to: What objects do I want to display at any given time and why? The answer to that question (central to all curating projects) is “You want to tell a story.”

So, lets say you have access to a huge mail art archive and you have only a small window of display space available at any given time. How to mine the data to come up with an interesting and coherent story to tell? The answer is as creative as any single mail art object or grouping. The answer begins and ends with your mail art knowledge, its history, its people, its methodologies and its idiosyncrasies. As I mentioned before, specific groupings are often based on a theme for a specific show. But art historically, one can pick and choose from various correspondences, or find common threads from within several disparate archives, based on ones overall knowledge of mail art. This is also key to the way collectors may collect mail art in the future.

In 2009 I used the standard mail art show call methodology to present “Artistamps in the Mailstream”, a group show to promote the use of artistamps on mail art. I asked folks to send me examples (new or archived) of artistamps that were used on mail art. Thus, I pre-classified the show theme on a technical basis, all displayed objects were mailed objects that had an artistamp on the outside of the envelope or postcard (in addition to regular postage). Strict adherence to the rules usually makes a better story.

Further, creative curators in the future will have better access to more better archives than ever before to display and educate the public about various mail art activities. As suggested previously groupings can be as large or as varied as the suggested by available materials. For example, one could put together a collection or display of mail art by noted personages during a certain time period, say, “Mail art from Picasso Gaglione to the world, 1999-2007” and collect up examples of mail sent to from this prolific mail artist to various correspondents around the globe in this period. Extra points for showing examples sent to all seven continents.

Similarly one could mine several archives for examples of specific artistamps used by different correspondents or to show how specific memes spread through the network. These would be fairly advanced projects.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Getting some really good feedback, support and traction on my latest Stamps for Kids venture. My partnership with Chicago Philatelic Society allows me to offer some workshops and resources for free to Chicago-area youth groups. For the moment I'm focussing on a visual arts curriculum for the youngsters, based on Illinois and Common Core objectives. This video explains how stamps and stamp collecting are educational.

APS Education Manifesto from Andrew Oleksiuk on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable (VWER) Meeting Lead Me to Reflect On My Career, Life as an Adjunct

by Andrew Oleksiuk, Tiffany Mosienko

I got really depressed today. I was attending a meeting of Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable (VWER), which I had been looking forward to, since I hadn’t been to a meeting in several weeks. These are fun friendly folks who chat about educational topics in the Second Life virtual world. Unbeknownst to me, the topic was "evaluating and rewarding educators". As the chat started, I started really feeling quite cynical, then depressed. They were talking about what makes good teachers good, how they are assessed and what makes them tick. I had no idea this topic would affect me like it did. For the first half hour I said nothing. For the second half hour I finally got motivated enough to speak. I fought off saying, “I don’t mean to be completely cynical but…”, managed some polite comments, and finally logged off. Why did this topic depress me so? What was going through my mind? I knew my story would be too long to tell in the time allotted, so upon reflection I am pouring my heart out here. I have absolutely nothing against VWER - they are fine and friendly people. It seemed that this topic was a trigger for a large chunk of my career that is under review right now.

I have been teaching since 1997. I remember like it was yesterday, answering an ad in the Chicago Tribune for part-time instructor position at Columbia College Chicago, the institution from which I had received my BA in 1990. I had been collecting “paychecks” piecemeal previously, doing consulting work, self-employed Apple Mac technical support, during the business boom times that was the ‘90s. I started teaching with the philosophy “give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime” in transitioning from consulting and computer support work to teaching. I felt my customers’ frustration at having to pay someone to help them manage a small fleet of computers. Postmodernism and the weight of the Internet would soon crush and/or revolutionize many businesses. While I was somewhat successful at business, I got into teaching almost from an ethical standpoint. I also felt I wanted the collegiality of College life that I wasn’t finding in the small business world.

Teaching came fairly naturally to me, since I was simply sharing my expertise. I was teaching undergrads for a larger chunk of paycheck than I could nickel and dime a few customers. I was comfortable in this milieux, but it did feel odd for the first time being “on the other side” of the desk from the students. I was teaching practical skills - and like many new adjuncts had to scramble a little to teach the curriculum as the powers that be handed them down. Operating systems, word processing, graphics, spreadsheets, some basic data handling, and that new fangled this that everyone was talking about in 1997 - Internet. A semester or two later, I was teaching a couple Internet-specific classes at other area colleges. As other pieces - some PC computer history, some media theory (especially when it came to the internet) - came together for context, I began to investigate other aspects of computing as part of my professional career: internet and computer systems as social mediums, cyberculture, computer art, the computer industry, etc. Branching out in this way comes with the territory of adjunct faculty work - one can never get too comfortable. The computer industry is seldom static, there are all sorts of new developments beyond Moore’s law that keep the industry interesting.

In addition to teaching I kept up my tech support practice. Remarkably, I accepted a full time staff tech support position in the department in which I was teaching. I was helping other teachers teach, and I had more of a hardware and troubleshooting sensibility than folks who only taught software. The department was sort of a computer-cultural laboratory which I could not have assembled myself, with hardware software and peripherals and research colleagues. I taught classes, I took classes. I kept learning. I branched out into teaching some divergent branches of computing: hardware, media theory. Good times. Interesting times. I saw an entire new branch of knowledge created out of thin air: web development. I saw full and adjunct faculty come and go. I saw and participated in the curriculum being developed and revised over and over again: productivity applications, game studies, interactive art, 2D animation, motion capture, 3D modeling, media publishing, illustration and design. Our department merged with a similar one within the college. When I was a student in 1990 the college had one non-department or all its computer teaching needs. By the early 2000s the non-department had become a degree-granting academic department with not one but several new degrees. Other departments were demanding and getting computer labs of their own and every department had computing at its core. What had been doing for a decade had become ubiquitous not only to the College, but to business and the world at large. Computers became essential to job training in nearly all disciplines as the sea change of the Internet era fueled the computer moving into areas it had not already been in the 90s. I began to specialize. I became smitten with virtual worlds for personal, artistic and professional reasons. In the meantime, along with this professional success I had gotten married (in my early 30s), and bought a house.

The good folks at Virtual World Education Roundtable (VWER) challenged me to reflect on my career as an adjunct
By 2007 I had found myself having had been teaching college for a decade. I pitched a virtual world class (first fully self-realized class) and started teaching. But I did feel something gnawing at me literally and figuratively. Professionally, I was making more money (and benefits) with my full time staff position. I was still teaching as an adjunct. Adjuncts had a union and I benefitted from this. I did not have a masters degree. I knew I could not climb the academic ladder without one. I applied to several area masters programs and was accepted. Concurrently I was diagnosed with cancer. It was a crazy scary time. Luckily, remarkably, against all the odds, somehow my doctors told me I had the “good kind of cancer”, with my entire family in shock, they said I could be treated. And I was. Successfully. In a year, I was cancer-stricken, and then cancer-free. I hardly had time to blink. But I also took matters into my own hands. I quit the day-job. As I enrolled into the MFA program at UIC, I had student insurance. I would still teach part-time and complete my masters degree in fine art - new media art, to be specific.

I don’t think I ever recall wanting to teach earlier in my career, but my life events (and world events) led me to it. From my early introduction to computing, having lived in a relatively wealthy suburb of Chicago (my parents had been very young immigrants from Ukraine), to my interest in media and art, fueled by gaming, music and zine cultures to watching desktop video, Internet, and 3D graphics take hold of the popular imagination. I suppose teaching found me.

After grad school, i continued to teach part-time, because of my connections. As a matter of fact, I started teaching at the SAIC, a school with some cachet. I was bedazzled by some new possibilities in supercomputers, board-level electronics, writing critical theory and new media art history (oxymoron, no?. And I was teaching virtual worlds to college art students as a studio class.

But something else happened along the way. I got tired of teaching. I got tired by the endless haggling of academia. The technology industry, despite its excitement (and its own cachet within some circles) was dragging on me with its endless cycle of learning and relearning and updates. As a professional technologist, I had honed my skills to understand what knowledge I needed to maintain. As a professional educator (though never having had a full-time faculty position) I became wary after graduate school of the trap of the endless cycle of academia, publishing, etc. Newly trained as an artist (though one that was trained mainly in the technologies I had been pursuing for years not for example painting or drawing) I felt my art career was just beginning. Going to grad school as a 40-something, I was in a very different place career-wise with my 20-something classmates, who would be seeking their first jobs out of college. Due to personal reasons, too (I paid for grad school with cash - no school debt) I wasn’t particularly motivated to seek full time faculty work right away - I was not sure quite what to do, I floundered a bit, pursuing artistic interests, but not feeling the need to find great success right away. I felt I needed to move out of academia, and kept saying as semesters passed that this would be my last class teaching. Until finally I cut the cord - or so I thought.

I worked a series of relatively low paying jobs, thinking I would pull myself together, but the money was terrible. By 2010 the computer industry has consolidated and there was very little money to be made from tech support. In the 90s I had been charging clients $25/hour to solve solve their computer issues. Then, I had been making upwards of $50-$75 per contact hour teaching. Suddenly I found myself out of academia looking in, starting to think about scarce and competitive full-time academic positions, that were often not guaranteed beyond a year.

So this is why I got cynical and then very depressed at the VWER meeting, when they were talking about evaluating and assessing teachers. Here I was at the crossroads of my career (art, education, technology) having had a nearly 20 year career as an adjunct. Did I have much to show for it? I still have the spouse and house. I have my own art and tech legacy and a decent resume. But I am still hustling for work and absolutely no security. I’ve seen entire industries gobbled up by digital media. I’ve seen faculty become so jaded to the point of suicide. I’ve seen academic budget battles, layoffs, union busting. I have experienced both curriculum fatigue and technology fatigue.

I am an artist whose work is shaped by technology. I use technology as a tool, but I refuse to let my life be ruled by it, even while celebrating it. I am a natural born teacher, but I refuse to succumb to the vicissitude of academia. I've lived my life performatively as a cultural worker, teacher, technologist and artist. As I continue to struggle with career (adjunct or not), I look back and realize that I’ve been lucky. I am blessed. I have taught and I have been taught. That cycle will continue, apparently - forever.