Well it’s finally happening. The day has come. As of around noon EST today, someone will announce over a loudspeaker at a crowded Yankee stadium that I am officially a member of the BAMPS – Bachelor of Arts and Master of Professional Studies. If you want to get technical, it should really be BLAMPS, since I did my undergrad in liberal arts. But there’s something phonaesthetically displeasing about that extra L, so I’ll stick with BAMPS.
So what is exactly an MPS and why does my graduate program, ITP at NYU Tisch, choose to award it rather than an MFA? I think the answer lies with why Red Burns, the founder of my program, calls her course Applications. It’s a course that every ITP student has to take during their first semester. We converged every week as one classroom and engaged in a dialogue with a different lecturer from the new media field. The visiting speakers are artists, entrepreneurs and activists and each one of them still practices their craft. From Foursquare founder and ITP alum Dennis Crowley to artist and designer Vito Acconci, we got to hear these visionaries share their stories, their obstacles and their triumphs.
This past week was our turn to take the stage. As the bookend of our graduate school experience, the graduating class of 2012 participated in ITP Thesis Week. Each one of us was given 20 minutes total to describe our projects, our own obstacles and celebrate our triumphs. I was lucky enough to go through the last four months working with ten very talented students, each one of us digging deep into our own individual projects thanks to the direction of our thesis advisor, Heather Greer.
Our projects varied so greatly that at first I couldn’t find a common thread and wondered why we were grouped together. Suzanne Kirkpatrick polished her mobile app, Commons, a creative way to get people to use New York City’s 311 system. Bobby Genalo explained to children the malleability of life by allowing them to design their own cell phones in novel shapes like hamburgers and sneakers. Will Jennings spent months sculpting chickens out of Amazon data, but dropped the project to focus on representing the taxonomy of our emails with characters instead. I like to think he made the change after I sent him this Werner Herzog on chickens video.
I remember a time when I was young that television sets were rare and we would crowd around them to watch together. Ge Yu attempts to recreate this experience online with her website, VoTalky. The two most artistically inclined members of our group would have to be Geetha Pedapati and Kemeya Harper. Geetha created a light and low resolution video sculpture titled Sunlight as Mediated by an Object. The piece offers a medium for emotional telepresence, allowing users to view the outside world via a surreal window equipped with an LED display diffused by translucent acrylic. I was blessed not only because I got to see Kemeya’s three-part installation, The F-ck’d Up Diary of a Qu–r Ni–er Woman, but also because I saw the creative process behind it. Just as powerful is Paragini Amin’s Caustic Crush, an interactive sculpture that explores our relationship and addiction to sugar.
I remember one class after Lynn Burke presented a zine she published for her project, It’s Your Stop: an exploration in creating dialogue at her subway platform, I leaned over and whispered to her, “Jane Jacobs would be proud.” The project I identified with the most was Andrew Lazarow’s DIRCT, a tool that enables theatre designers to respond in real-time to live performance. His biggest hurdle was getting the theatre world to embrace technology as part of the creative process. I had similar difficulties with my own community of Classical Javanese Gamelan musicians, and had to be very careful in how to describe my project to them – a set of tools to practice gamelan music at home.
And last but not least was Avery Max, who was unlucky enough to be born as a computer scientist but found truth beneath the algorithmic lies by discovering funk, rainbows and sparkles. His thesis project was a logical transition in his body of work. First came Neon God, a rainbow array of Electroluminescent Wire featuring symbols that Max considered sacred. Then came Sparkle God, a software alternative that bypasses closed source software and allows anyone with access to a CNC machine to create large scale works of art with crystal rhinestones.
The strange thing about our thesis projects, I can’t say that these define who we are all the time. Sure, we pursued our passion and shared it with the world. But every one of us is a little bit of an entrepreneur, a little bit of a digital activist, and dare I say it, a little bit of an artist. What we did was apply our skills to a specific niche. This must be why Red Burns chose to give the MPS rather than the MFA to ITP graduates. Even if we do come out of the program as fine arts masters, Red Burns expects us to apply our skills. And I don’t want to disappoint. I’m very proud of my freshly minted degree. Besides, BAMPS sounds a lot sexier than BAMFA.