The philosopher and computer scientist Douglas Hofstadter defines a set of useful modes of engagement in his book Godel, Escher, Bach. Among these, M-mode is a machine-like orientation: we activate M-mode when we undergo a process, perform a mathematical operation or follow a predetermined score. This is distinct from I-mode, an intelligent, self-reflective orientation in which we examine intentions and outcomes, refine our experiments.
I find Hofstadter's formulation useful as a simple way of thinking through the human-machine entanglement that is a fact of embodiment and creativity in the 21st century. In a studio setting, I construct pedagogical frameworks in which computational strategies and conceptual and critical thinking are in close conversation. I integrate and draw connections between structured creative processes and the fluid coordination of instructions in a computer program. This conflation of creative and systematic thinking comes from my interest in generative traditions such as the Oulipian constraint, and my former collaboration with the radically process-oriented performance company, Goat Island. I merge content generation – writing, remixing, collecting -- with creative coding to impart a rich context of integrated practice. I emphasize experiment and neutralize intimidation: being able to sample and implement code is a powerful pathway to more advanced understanding.
One example class exercise is the infinite staircase. In this workshop, students generate written fragments in response to definitions of the words consequent and antecedent. We then look at a mathematical proof demonstrating a set of blocks that can be endlessly stacked without collapsing. Because the proof is simple and can be easily interpreted as a program, we construct a web-based piece that arranges and endlessly loops the writings in an a procedural and visual representation of form. Mixed in with the students' initial responses are lines from a poem, The Birth of Prepositions by Claude Royet-Journoud (the chosen terms consequent and antecedent correspond to sections in this work), and additional texts the students have written to come before or after these lines.
In generative exercises, I encourage a range of responses and acknowledge that students learn and move towards technical proficiency in different ways, not only logically but through recognizing visual patterns and through embodied repetition. An instigator and facilitator, I provide rigorous frameworks for thinking and making, but spend equal time listening. I foster collaboration and look beyond the classroom to cultivate engagements with the communities and opportunities that can help sustain a life-long artistic practice.