Tag Archives: Open Classroom

Project Pulse: Richard Ross

24 Jan

The statistic presented poster-style on photographer Richard Ross’s website (www.juvenile-in-justice.com) is gripping. California spends nearly $225,000 annually to house a young person in Alameda County’s new, green, LEED certified Juvenile Justice Center. At the same time, Alameda county is spending just $4945 annually per child in its Oakland public schools. The numbers grab us. Crime clearly pays someone. Ross’s beautiful color photographs of imprisoned youth grab us, too. A row of half grown boys lined up, backs turned, before a gigantic guard; a fifteen year old in bright orange Crocs sits in a bare concrete-block cell.

How to create that grab and channel it toward meaningful change is the focus of Project Pulse, a collaborative course and lecture series offered this winter at UCSB. Three professors, Ross in the art department, Victor Rios in sociology  and Cissy Ross in the writing department, invite students in four courses—Studying People, Writing for the Social Sciences, Journalism and News Writing, and Photojournalism—to explore multiple strategies for creating effective advocacy. The course is called Justice.

Between them, the Rosses and Rios have an array of investigative tools. Cissy Ross spent 25 years as an award-winning  journalist and editor in New York and California. Rios’s recent book Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys is not only the result of his academic research and youth mentoring in San Francisco and Santa Barbara, but also of his own gang experience as a young teenager. Richard Ross, trained as a fine art photographer, has for the past five years interviewed and photographed and more than 1000 youths in detention facilities in 30 states. ( A show of the work, Juvenile-in-Justice opens in the Nevada Museum of Art later this year.) Justice, the course, is a hands-on practicum in the art of integrating observation and action. It’s organized around individual research projects, which will be published on paper and on the web.

A series of guest speakers will also address the joint classes, beginning January 25th with David Inocencio, founder of The Beat Within, whose writing workshops for juvenile offenders in 13 CA counties have resulted  an 80 page  biweekly magazine, published by Pacific New Service. Other speakers range from the glamorous to the provocative: Mauro Bedoni, photo journalist and picture editor of Colors, the international  youth-oriented issue and design magazine, Karen Grau, head of Calamari Productions, whose child welfare documentaries include the MTV series Juvies, and letterpress printmaker, teacher, and activist, Amos Kennedy. Based in Alabama, Kennedy gave up a career as a computer programmer to master pre-digital crafts including paper-making. His hand-printed posters re-imagine the sound byte as a meaningful statement, artistically presented and sold at near cost.

Discussing his prison photography Ross told an interviewer, “Nobody says, oh sure, come in.” Access is in large part a function of being sensitive to how institutions work—and what it’s like to work within them. To that end, the speaker series will also include the chief strategist for juvenile justice reform at the Annie E Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization dedicated to children and families, and two members of local law enforcement: Dustin Olsen, Chief of the UC Santa Barbara Police Department & Lieutenant Ray Vuillemainroy, Isla Vista Foot Patrol, Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office.

The course’s collaborative structure extends to students as well. As they identify the area they will research they are urged to contact one another on the class website. Posts may begin with a proposal to share transportation but easily expand to a discussion of approaches and methods. Researchers need photographers and vice versa Professors weigh in, too,: a terrific idea still needs to take a tangible shape. an approach has to go beyond the image everyone knows. Great reporting demands more of everything: legwork, questions, thought, art.

 

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Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

 

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Anastasia Hill: Psychonautica: Mind, Media and Mysticism

8 Nov

Arguably, a psychonaut is anyone who’s ever experienced REM sleep—or more particularly, anyone who’s tried to pinpoint the coordinates of a city they’ve only visited in dreams. The term psychonaut, or mind-sailor, seems to have been first used–-admiringly—in a 1970 essay by Ernst Jünger on drugs and inebriation. Efforts to categorize and codify routes to trance states, however, date to early Buddhist and Hindu texts and possibly to the walls of pre-historic caves. They encompass philosophical investigations of Greek drama and laboratory attempts to discover why—physiologically speaking—Jimi Hendrix might have seen a purple haze and not an olive green one.

The course readings for Anastasia Yumeko Hill’s Psychonautica: Mind, Media and Mysticism (UCSB, Winter 2011) for the most part span only the 19th  through 21st centuries —an exception is Euripides’ Bacchae. But they cover the exploration of deliberately altered consciousness from a number of compass points: art, philosophy, chemistry, psychoanalysis, cybernetics, anthropology, spirituality, and media studies. To name some. Among the syllabus authors: sociologist/critic Walter Benjamin, dolphin researcher John C Lilly, painter and media artist Teresa Wennberg, and Zen Buddhist abbot Joan Halifax.

The kind of paradox encountered when the mind tries to study itself was elegantly stated by Benjamin in his 1929 essay, Surrealism (one of the course readings) “The most passionate investigation of the hashish trance will not teach us half as much about thinking (which is eminently narcotic), as the profane illumination of thinking about the hashish trance.”  Psychonautica: Mind, Media and Mysticism attempted both—pairing class discussion of “Trance and Form,” “Intoxication and Surrealism” and “Psychotechnology” with field trips to a variety of immersive experiences including a ritual sweat in a traditional sweat lodge and an acoustic sound bath in the Integraton, a geo-magnetically enhanced wooden dome built on the edge of the Mojave desert by aircraft mechanic turned ufologist George Van Tassel.

Hill’s survey of Psychonautic literature begins with psychedelic pioneers Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzger who faced a paradox similar to those Benjamin described when trying to program an LSD experience. A subject might have difficulty remembering an intention, or balk when reminded by the bodiless head of Ishtar. Altered realities demand altered language: Leary and his colleagues found it in Tibetan Book of the Dead whose specialized vocabulary reinforced the idea of trip as initiation. Hill pairs them with contemporary writers–Technosis author and Wired contributor Erik Davis (“Spiritual Cyborg”) and UCSD new media theorist, Lev Manovich—who look to digital paradigms to suggest broader questions of aesthetics, perception, and social reality.

Fittingly the course finale was an outdoor festival in Isla Vista—attended, Hill says, by about 200 people. The 19 students, whose backgrounds included film and media, art, philosophy, and environmental studies, presented group projects oriented around themes covered during the semester: Dionysia, 19th century Mesmerism, Surrealism, Psychedelia, and Techno-Spiritualism. The idea, Hill says, was to “give a sense of how we experience and construct meaning around culturally and historically specific variations” of altered consciousness.

Drawing on writing by Edgar Allen Poe and working  with a student outside the course who practices hypnotism, the Mesmer group “reproduced Mesmer’s salon wherein ‘patients’ could receive treatment from a hypnotist accompanied by two of the students dressed in 19th century garb. They also created an oversized see-saw with a large mirror erected in the center, blocking each see-sawer’s view of the other and creating a very disorienting spacial experience.”

The festival also had a guest star, artist Gary Hill.  In a workshop with students before the event he showed a piece of his concurrent NYC exhibition of surf, death, tropes & tableaux: The Psychedelic Gedankenexperiment—an installation of sculpture, painting and manipulated video, accompanied by mediated viewing devices. Gary Hill, a pioneer of new media art and “electronic linguistics” is also Anastasia’s father. As a girl she appeared in some of his works. In a time-honored generational reversal– though one that almost always involves some alteration of consciousness—he now appeared in hers. At the festival he performed sound and voice improvisations to student videos and invited visitors to experiment with handheld wands that transform the user’s gestures into a remotely synthesized music.

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Ariel Swartley

San Pedro, CA

aswartley@att.net

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