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Intersections Between Art and Technology

A First-Generation Low-Income (FLI) Student’s Reflections

After completing finals last spring and returning to the comforting recluse of my parent’s home, a reflection of my first year on campus was nothing short of unavoidable. My childhood home, situated in a small, rural Nebraskan town, stands in contrast to the buzzing, collaborative, resource-filled environment at Pomona College.

Emily Briones' Hometown in rural Nebraska
Scenes from Emily’s Hometown | Image Source: Emily Briones

Growing up, I never expected to have the opportunity to attend a prestigious college like Pomona, much less explore the possibility of minoring in art. This academic school year, I took my first art class, eventually deciding to take ART 143, Advanced Digital Art in the Spring. Prior to this point, I certainly saw art as a means of expression and appreciation for my surroundings, but like many other students coming from a low-resource community, the thought that pursuing an education in art wouldn’t satisfy the need to make my immigrant parents’ sacrifices “worthy” remained in the back of my head. Only through acknowledging intersections between art, academia, and technology did a shift in my mindset occur.

Pomona College Carnegie Building
Pomona College Carnegie Building | Image Credit: Susan Pennestri

Exploring at Pomona

Although I ended up dropping Advanced Digital Art for a major requirement, I learned a great deal in my two weeks in class. Expecting to handle primarily visual material, I was surprised to be introduced to soundscape art, a curated performance of sounds meant to challenge how environments are understood by those living within it. In class, I was exposed to the prospect of using field recorders to craft my own soundscape and how to use comprehensive video and audio production software like Adobe Audition. In a librarian-assisted class period, I delved into the importance of art research: to explore other perspectives and arguments to create truly representative art. I was genuinely shocked to discover a host of scholarly papers structured much like ones I had read in other subjects’ courses. Indeed, it is from this scholarly exploration and experimentation with technology that entire disciplines like the one soundscape art is based in—acoustic ecology—can come about.

In the 1970s, R. Murray Schafer, a composer and educator who also grew up in a rural community, conducted research on noise pollution and people’s perception of their surroundings; this would become his World Soundscape Project (Pasoulas). He formed a group that created an audio archive of environmental recordings, effectively using technology and an artistic mind to start a worldwide conversation on the preservation of natural soundscapes in a newly industrialized and urbanized world beginning to see the effects of climate change. Over time, other disciplines like biology, geography, and sociology added to this new field as soundscape compositions that commented on diverse political and social issues arose at the same time (Pasoulas).

Learning about such work allowed me to see art through a new lens—as a valuable way of building critical connections in order to make my greater contribution to forging the life I wish to provide my parents that I previously thought I could only do by pursuing a STEM-oriented career. I now understand I can move beyond simply expressing myself through art toward challenging myself and others. Like Schafer, I can utilize my own unique experiences in conjunction with scholarly research and technology as a bridging tool to achieve this greater goal.

Current Takes

With this spirit fueling me, I’m excited to share some interesting intersections of art and technology that are currently taking the academic and working spheres by storm. A great example that emerged in my queries comes from abroad, in Sydney’s Felt Experience and Empathy Lab (FEEL) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Here, researchers have been able to blend the flexibility of art with principles of psychotherapy, placing subjects into a blank room with only a door, two windows, and a virtual reality headset (Freeland). As participants move throughout the room, perhaps choosing to open a window, their actions are matched on a virtual reality level. The immersive experience is complete with elements like a stimulating breeze, snow, and enlightening, natural visuals (Freeland). In this way, patients with a bleak outlook of the past and present are given a safe space designed to challenge trauma by providing hope and a sense of agency. As a psychology major, this use of innovative technology stands out to me. I see this as a psychosocial tool that has the potential to reach a greater range of people in need who may not yet feel comfortable or simply can’t access narrower clinical and medical realms of psychological help. Coming from a rural background, where 88 of Nebraska’s 93 counties have a shortage of mental health professionals, I can’t help but notice this project’s potential impact (Fraser).

On the other side of the coin is the use of hologram technology to navigate spiked shipping costs as some countries vowed to wean themselves off Russian energy amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began early this spring. A Los Angeles-based company, Proto, has worked with a local artist to create hologram installations that provide realistic three-dimensional displays that can easily be transported and seen anywhere (Cassady). Soon enough, viewers in San Francisco and Hong Kong alike will be able to see a rendition of La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans by Edgar Degas, which originally premiered at the 1881 Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in Paris; modern-day viewers will be able to witness the piece’s dancer slowly rotating in an intricate faille bodice with linen ballet slippers, alongside all the other components that make it eye-catching (Cassady). More importantly, implementing such technology on a broader level would fundamentally change how art is transported, helping cut down on the world’s carbon footprint and making supporting sanctions against Russia’s actions, and in this way, Ukraine—if even just through this one domain—more feasible for different industries. On a personal level, this example helps reinforce the idea that I can impact and deconstruct institutionalized society without compromising my own educational priorities or forcing myself to primarily reside in spaces that simply don’t entice my curiosity in the same way.

Final Remarks

Generally, researching both of these projects reminded me that there are no boundaries to art, just as there are none for technology or academia. The somewhat corny saying we all hear growing up—that we can be anything we want, do anything we want—still rings true. We just have to get a little creative.  As a FLI student, becoming increasingly aware of some of the niche jobs that I’d never even heard of or seen as accessible before pursuing a liberal arts education is an empowering experience. Who knew jobs like “instructional technologist” existed? And I know there is even more to discover. With new technology, jobs like “augmented reality designer” are surfacing. In the future, I certainly see virtual reality being incorporated further into our everyday lives, just as earlier technology eventually was; one can even see this in the fashion world, where the Apple Watch is our first large venture into the wearable technology industry, Adidas released 3-D printed shoes, and Google and Levis collaborated on a denim jacket that connects to the wearer’s phone.  It will certainly be interesting to see how such technology is incorporated into delicate spaces like education or used to mitigate pressing issues like climate change in a way that doesn’t just add to current disparities but effectively addresses people’s concerns with the question technology poses of what it means to be human. 

-Emily Briones, Pomona College, ’24

References

Cassady, Daniel. “Christie’s Uses Hologram Technology to Take a $20m Degas Sculpture on Tour.” The Art Newspaper – International Art News and Events, 21 Apr. 2022, www.theartnewspaper.com/2022/04/21/christies-degas-dancer-hologram-tour-auction. Accessed 20 June 2022.

Fraser, Quanecia. “Rural Areas See Shortage of Mental Health Care Workers.” KETV, 28 Jan. 2022, www.ketv.com/article/rural-areas-see-shortage-mental-health-care-workers-omaha/38919532. Accessed 20 June 2022. 

Freeland, Anna. “UNSW’s Felt Experience and Empathy Lab Combines Art and Technology to Design Psychosocial Supports for Wellbeing.” ABC News, 17 May 2022, www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-17/unsw-big-anxiety-research-centre-psychosocial-design-tools/101069750. Accessed 20 June 2022.

Pasoulas, Aki. “The Art and Science of Acoustic Ecology.” ENT & Audiology News, 7 Jan. 2020, www.entandaudiologynews.com/features/audiology-features/post/the-art-and-science-of-acoustic-ecology. Accessed 20 June 2022.