Shira Feldman Exit Interview

For the past few months, I’ve had the privilege of working for – and with – Taeyoon Workshop (Taeyoon Choi’s Studio). In this short time, I’ve written and edited lecture notes, grant applications, articles and website texts, organized events, helped host reading groups at Data & Society, facilitated the growth and production of the Distributed Web of Care series, and acted as a Teaching Assistant for the wonderful ITP course at NYU, Teaching as Art. Below are some highlights, as well as some reflections of what I’ve learned and gained in this experience:  

Learning to Teach – Teaching to Learn:

When I first started back in January, one of my first tasks was to help with the logistics and organization of Learning to Teach – an event for educators working with technology in creative and applied ways, exploring how to create environments and tools for interdisciplinary teaching practices. Embarrassingly in these starting days, I kept referring to and writing it out as, “Teaching to Learn,” rather than the correct other way around. In retrospect, my mistake of reversal was prophetic and proverbial.

Assisting in Taeyoon’s class at ITP, Teaching as Art, has been one of the most exciting and wonderful ways I’ve contributed, letting me come to terms with my own love for teaching, and learning through teaching. The course explored both the art of teaching – of creating syllabi, curricula, learning objectives and outcomes, and also, artists whose creative practices are socially and pedagogically engaged. This meant that once a week, I got to deep dive into the works of Anni Albers, Lygia Clark, Simone Leigh and others. I provided documentation of the classes over GitHub and hosted office hours to help with those pesky pull requests, which was how students submitted their homework (GitHub repository as a class platform – it works!) It was a true pleasure to befriend and get to know the students, and to ultimately watch them hand in and present final projects, in which they designed a workshop for a museum setting.

As someone eagerly drawn to critical texts and discussions, but not currently drawn to the prospects of graduate school, I’ve learnt so much through teaching – through the act of curating and organizing disperse texts and ideas into class discussions, activities and assignments. Thank you to the Teaching as Art Spring 2018 class for bringing liveliness and fun to my Mondays.

Care:

Another formative project I’ve helped with is the ongoing Distributed Web of Care series, which asks, “can we code to care and code carefully?” I’ve witnessed and contributed to this project from its early brainstorming stages, helping to shape its language, partner inspiring artists and engineers with the Ace Hotel New York’s Artists In Residence  program, plan for the recently-announced Summer Fellows, and launch its own website.Aside from the delight of seeing a new series take its form, from early conversations to a fully-fledged production, working with Taeyoon the past few months has significantly impacted me in the ways I consider – and reconsider – disability, cure and care in the context of technology.

I’ve learned that care is crucial in critique – that in attempts to articulate and grapple with our networked culture, we must be sure that our scrutinizing commentary is inclusive – and even more so than that – amplifying the voices of those who are not heard, not listened to, not considered as “users.” Sure, we can make the claim that technology is our contemporary form of power – or a means of effecting power (I do it all the time, from casual conversations to more critical writing), but this claim is barren without a serious commitment to accessibility. Technologies define personhood in relation to those who can afford to use it, who are visible and normatively-abled within the consumerist landscape. Working with Taeyoon, I’ve gained a deep investment towards challenging this notion of user. I’ve gotten to meet awesome artists and activists working in various disability communities – and even participate in blindfolded floral arrangement workshops.

With the Distributed Web of Care, these considerations insightfully intersect with the notion and application of distributed networks, examining how alternative networks which prioritize privacy and security over commercial interests might function as a form of care. Assisting with this project has been a wonderful mixture of the technical and the conceptual. It’s been awesome to watch this community come together, and materialize as a form of a network themselves. I’m so very excited to continue to watch this project grow this summer and beyond, and so very grateful to have contributed in thoughtful and technical ways myself.  

Best Practices:

The majority of my internship has consisted of talking through and formulating ideas and concepts together, in a one-on-one setting with Taeyoon. I have no idea how many Google Doc pages we’ve gone through together, bullet point after point point, and eventually into cohesive paragraphs and narratives. I’ve learned my own strengths in this dynamic, and importantly also, my weaknesses. I feel confident leaving this experience in returning a perceptive and idea-driven first draft of a work. I know I have to continue working on my editing skills, that which comes after the frenzy of thoughts strewn all over the page.

I’ve also been able to reflect on my own best practices in terms of coding and technical skills. In helping get the Distributed Web of Care project online, I worked with Jekyll and GitHub, skills I’m still attempting to familiarize myself with. Working more computationally, I’ve learned a lot about my own patience and how I respond to frustrations in syntax and debugging. I’ve learned that it’s not necessarily how much you know in any given programming language, but how well you can identify and articulate a given problem to best find a solution, or a resource to the solution. Getting better at coding requires a willingness to truly learn from your mistakes, which means understanding how and why you arrived at the error message in the first place. Getting better at coding requires a systematic approach and comprehension to the language, as tempting as it is to never look back once you’ve solved your bug.

What’s Next:

This weekend, I leave New York and my internship with Taeyoon to spend my summer in Cambridge, as a Library Innovation Lab Fellow at Harvard. There I will be researching, writing, coding and making new work, exploring through a variety of creative practices critical issues in cyberculture, and what it means to live in a networked, digital culture. My approach and interest in technology and digital culture has always come from a poetic and interdisciplinary place, so the opportunity to learn, collaborate and think critically with those committed to the poetics of computation has been generative in radically expansive ways. There is an unquantifiable amount that I will take with me from this experience, but it’s entirely reassuring knowing that what I have learned, thought about, contributed to and helped with will remain relevant and at priority in my next adventure. Thank you to Taeyoon + Livia + Emily + all the other wonderful people I’ve gotten to meet at Recess, Data & Society and ITP. Till our paths cross next…and in the meantime, find me online, on my website and on Twitter.