Spring 2008

| v.04 n.01|

Intermedia @ IOWA (a conversation in progress)

With comments by Laren Leland, Kelly McLaughlin, Nadija Mustapic and Mark NeuCollins.

Introduction | Micro History

As a relatively new arrival to The University of Iowa's Intermedia program — I joined the permanent faculty at Iowa in fall 2002 — I have been actively involved in discussions defining Intermedia, and the challenge of locating Intermedia within New Media, identifying historical contexts and present and future practices.

The University of Iowa's Intermedia program, located in the School of Art and Art History, has played an historic role in the evolution of what has emerged as the field of intermedia. Launched in the seventies, its commitment to developing new, hybrid contemporary arts practices has been its one constant. Led by Hans Breder in its first thirty years, Intermedia has a famed history of trail-blazing, ever-evolving creative practice in installation, performance, electronic time-based media, and the perplexingly dubbed New Media.

In the 21st century, Intermedia continues to stake out new shifting ground while reaffirming its well-rooted principles.

fig. a. PowerPoint slide: Intermedia principles. From a talk, “Living in a Constant State of Crisis — A report from Intermedia in America’s Heartland” at Molekula Filmaktiv Media Collective, Rijeka, Croatia, spring 2006


While preparing “Living in a Constant State of Crisis — A report from Intermedia in America’s Heartland,” a talk I gave in Croatia, (1) I was challenged to spell out Intermedia’s principles. This article will describe the elements, identify some related issues and developments in contemporary art and society.

Process over production | Dialog over Commerce.

Consistent with Conceptual Art’s argument for the dematerialization of the art object, and in line with French Curator|Theorist Nicholas Bourriaud’s proposal for a new definition of art (see fig. b. below), Intermedia values the experience of engagement in ideas over the appreciation of a finished object. The goal is not to excite the acquisitive instincts of a viewer — “I love this. I’ve got to have it. It will look great in the foyer.” — but rather to promote reflection and dialog around the ideas and sentiments expressed in the work. 

fig. b. Nicolas Bourriaud. “Art.”

This approach, like much of contemporary art practice, also encourages experimentation akin to scientific research. The outcome of a project is initially unknown: it is discovered in the studio process.  To quote Detroit–based poet and theorist Barrett Watten who states it more lyrically, “The train ceaselessly reinvents the station.”(2)

New Tools for Creation

In the Intermedia program at Iowa we are chronic early adopters of new technologies, and keen to try out new materials, responding to prompts from the Apple Corporation and its number one pitch man Steve Jobs to incorporate into our practice the latest addition to the seemingly endless suite of elegantly designed, overpriced iProducts.   At the same time we find equal potential — and pleasure — in unimagined treasures discovered at the local Hobby Lobby in our perpetual quest to discover new materials with which to make work.

New Networks for Distribution and Display

Increasingly artists are producing work that goes far beyond the prescribed boundaries of the traditional gallery, printed art catalog and conventional screening. Intermedia research is deeply engaged in mapping and mining emerging electronic landscapes — focused of late on the broad suite of social networking environments from Flickr to Twitter to YouTube to Facebook, or as many of our students refers to as “The Book.” (3) Moving to a universe in which numerous networks run parallel to the Internet and World Wide Web, we are also looking intently at the “Fourth Screen” — the cell phone/mobile device screen, as a site for the display, distribution and production of creative work. As importantly, non-electronically-mediated ‘bricks & mortar,’ ‘rw’ (“real world”) forums continue to be a strong focus of Intermedia work.

galeria prijatelstva

fig. c. Galeria Prijatelstva - Gallery of Friendship. October - December 2007. Rijeka, Croatia

Gallery created in the doorframe of live work studio of Jenn Myers, fall 2007 Projekt Oko Sokolovo participant, "offering the neighborhood a slight deviation from the normal street scenes."

Democratic Ideals

At the core of much of Intemedia work are democratic ideals. Inherent in the notion of dialog over commerce is a critique of consumer society, advocating not for a culture of profit, but rather for a culture of value, one in which new ideas are shared. Veterans of the ’70’s and ’80’s in the Silicon Valley argue that a shift from value to profit occurred in the ’90’s with the first NASDAQ boom. The cultures at the legendary labs at Hewlett Packard and Xerox PARC, where engineers and scientists excitedly exchanged research, gave way to an environment more driven by venture capitalists and non-disclosure agreements.

Wikipedia, of all the online social networks, now perhaps best embodies this continuingly vital idea of free exchange, and the building of shared scholarship and knowledge bases. And at Intermedia we strive towards an ever more fluid and open exchange of information, as evidenced by increasingly strong ties to other programs within the university, from Sculpture and Printmaking to Computer Science, English and Urban Planning.

These ideals are also articulated in Intermedia community projects, where students are paired with Iowa City and Johnson County non-profits agencies. A shining example is Iowa City Senior City Television Online!, http://icsctv.uiowa.edu a multi-generational initiative co-directed by Jonathan Rattner, an MFA candidate in Cinema and Comparative Literature and mainstay Intermedia associate.  To implement the project, 2008 MFA Intermedia candidate Craig Dietrich designed a sophisticated interface to deliver on demand video. Senior producers work side by side with students up to sixty years their junior, to create a broad and diverse range of video programs.

fig. d. PowerPoint slide: Introduction. From a talk, “Living in a Constant State of Crisis — A report from Intermedia in America’s Heartland” at Molekula Filmaktiv Media Collective, Rijeka, Croatia. Spring 2006. 

Inclusive, International Perspectives

For a host of reasons, many related to new media practice and production, the world is getting smaller. At the same time, operating in America’s heartland, we recognize what I refer to as “the American disease,” a near fundamental conviction in the vast majority of United States citizens that they/we are the center of the world, if not the universe. Intermedia at Iowa encourages an internationalist perspective. Projekt Oko Sokolovo, mentioned previously, is our flagship international offshore effort, coordinated onsite by artist Nadija Mustapic, a 2006 MFA Iowa graduate.  At the core of this initiative is the belief that we are living in particularly troubled times, times that call for global solutions, and for the active participation of artists in social and political discourse.

intermedia graduate open house

fig e. Intermedia Graduate Open House. K Crain (left, sweeping up broken plates) and Cole Zrostlik (seated, delivering PowerPoint presentation) co-present “Living as 4 in a Jackson 5 macro-culture,” five-minute paper as part of “The Fall 2007 Intermedia Open House Symposium Series” by Craig Dietrich.

Communications Center, The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa. October 26, 2007.

Intermedia Open House, semi-annual events in undergraduate and graduate editions, is a signature event that is equal parts Beaux Arts Ball, Science Fair, Fun House and one-night student Whitney Biennial.  At its best, all of Intermedia’s principles are in play.  Highly interactive, inclusive and fun, Open House challenges assumptions about issues of quality, aesthetics and the conventional positioning of the artist as producer of a static artwork and the audience as safe consumer of that artwork. Boundaries are blurred. All bets are off.


Intermedia resides within the School of Art and Art History, one of eight studio programs – Ceramics, Design, Intermedia, Jewelry/Metal arts, Painting/Drawing, Photography, Printmaking and Sculpture. Significantly, it is the one program that is not discipline-specific, driven exclusively by its conceptual practice and commitment to experimental creative research and development.  While this creates a challenge to succinctly describe what we do – within the school, university and beyond – it also allows for maximum flexibility in the trajectory of our practice. Given that the brilliant New Media curators Sarah Cook and Steve Dietz somewhat ironically pronounced the end of New Media in their 2005 Banff Centre exhibition “The Art Formerly Known As New Media,”– or at the least the viability of the term – we’re particularly interested in defining Intermedia beyond New Media as it is currently defined. The confusion with Digital Media – “They’re the artists that work with computers” – is also an issue. Intermedia can foresee a time when digital media is so much part and practice of cultural production that it will be as invisible as the air we breathe. This has already occurred with the term of “Digital Video” now synonymous with video. New frontiers in biology, chemistry and full collaborative research with the social sciences can easily be viewed in the near distance from where Intermedia stands.

fig. f. Intermedia temporary homes, appropriately named International Center (left) and  Communications Center (right.)

Home Base

In spring 2007, after a dozen and a half or so years, Intermedia moved from its previously temporary quarters at the International Center, something of a rabbit warren, to a new temporary home, the Communications Center, a drab building near the main library at the heart of the campus. In 2009-2010, Intermedia will move a final time, to fully refurbished, custom-designed facilities in what was once the principal art building of the School of Art and Art History.  For the first time Intermedia will be located within the arts complex, no longer on the fringe of the art school, reflecting the groundswell of interest in interdisciplinary and intermedia practice at Iowa, and a desire for a more central role for Intermedia in the life and culture of the school.

Creative Research

To further illustrate intermediary research at Intermedia, below are highlights of the work and professional practice of four recent graduates. I find the work remarkable for both its intrinsic aesthetic value, and for the inventiveness of its display. The early career paths of the four alumni are also indicative of the range of possibilities available to Intermedia artists. I have also invited the four alumni to contribute their thoughts on any part of this article. Their comments can be found at http://www.uiowa.edu/~interart/media-N/comments.html .

fig. g. Bliss Bomb’her photographed in fall 2007. San Francisco, California. (Photo credit: Boss Hogg. San Francisco, California.)

Laren Leland (MFA, UIowa Intermedia 2005) Capitalizing on her training as a figure skater, she is now exploring the intersecting spaces of athletics, performance and four-dimensional first-person narrative as a member of the Bay Area Derby Girls League http://bayareaderbygirls.com. Known by her skate moniker Bliss Bomb'her, Laren skates for the San Francisco ShEvil Dead as a #4 blocker. She is also a Web designer. Since completing her degree at Iowa, she has been a Conceptual Tour Guide of historic San Francisco, part of an interactive, audience-participation, ‘rw’ art work; and an instructor at a for profit art college. She has also published two books of experimental writing, "She Paused," and "Chosen Text." The latter is available at Printed Matter, New York, New York.


fig. h. Kelly McLaughlin. Interactive graphics. 2007.

Kelly McLaughlin (MFA, UIowa Intermedia 2005) is currently the Senior Interaction Designer at a global management consultancy.  She also works with the Bowery Residents Community in a community-based computer literacy project for low-income New Yorkers http://brc.org. She's a member of the New York chapter of the Interaction Design Association http://ixda.org. According to Kelly, “she also likes to lurk in quiet admiration at the coffee shop basement gatherings of FlashCodersNY http://flashcodersny.org. She considers the transition from Intermedia to Interaction Design to be conceptually cohesive.  In both she has been explicitly interested in "user" experience and in creating conditions that engender collaboration.”

Unlike most MFA graduates, Intermedia graduates with Web design and coding skills have the potential to earn significant incomes in jobs somewhat to closely related to their creative practice, something they share in common with New Media graduates.

fig. i. Nadija Mustapic. "Conflict, Process, Repetition", 2006 - video, 18 min, (video based on "An Ordinary 24 Hours" - a 24-hour-long performance in collaboration with Marnie Glazier, Tomislav Friscic, Bryan Burgess, Iowa City, 2005). The performance was based, in part, on the artist’s experience of life during a time of war in the Balkans.

fig. j. Nadija Musatpic. Untitled (Scroll)", 2005, two-channel video installation (2 looped videos, sound, paper scroll, wire, turnbuckles, hooks) Variable dimensions: paper scroll dimensions 5 x 75 feet

Nadija Mustapic, (MFA, UIowa, Printmaking 2006) is a lecturer at the University of Rijeka Applied Arts Academy and the on-site coordinator of Projekt Oko Sokolovo. (See footnote 1) While her creative training is deeply rooted in printmaking and traditional fine arts, while at Iowa she worked equally in Intermedia.  (Graduate students in sculpture, printmaking, painting, photography, theater and cinema routinely make up the mix of Intermedia Graduate Workshop, the area’s weekly seminar.) Back in her native Rijeka, Nadija is fully immersed in the life of the county, engaged in what the French have aptly dubbed “cultural animation.” She collaborates on the organization of exhibitions and live events and helped coordinate an avant-garde art and music festivals in her home town of Opatija.

fig k. Ambient Poem. Mark NeuCollins. Fall 2005.  The artist writes: “This video text installation was rear projected in a hallway onto four free-hanging scrims that fluttered in the wake of viewers’ passage. The “poem” was composed from a bank of short phrases collected over several months. These phrases were arranged, tweaked to flow grammatically and phonetically, then presented in a four-minute looping video with a pacing that mimicked spoken language.

Ambient Poem was an exploration of visual, textual, aural, spatial relationships. Using “found” text and adopting a readymade strategy, the meanings of the words and phrases acquired new interstitial meanings – that is, they took on new meanings by virtue of their relationship with the other phrases, their projected presentation, and their pacing. The length of the piece was designed to be longer than a typical viewer would stand watching it. In this way, the experience and meaning of the piece was additionally individualized to each viewer.”

Mark NeuCollins, http://www.mark-neucollins.org (MFA, UIowa Intermedia 2006) is an adjunct assistant professor in Intermedia at Iowa. This year he pioneered “The Virtual Object,” a special topics undergraduate course that introduces undergraduate art majors to computer programming. He also directs "Recursions," a yearly evening of collaborative, interdisciplinary time-based media at the University of Iowa Museum of Art. Curatorial practice, DIY artist-centered initiatives, and collaboration are all characteristic of Intermedia practice.

fig l. Mark NeuCollins Recursions flier for Fall 2007 event. I love the suggestion of a literal mixing of media in this work and the subtle reference to the Red State Blue State dynamic. (“First in the nation,” Iowa’s social landscape is dominated by the run up to Iowa Caucuses every four years.)

While not proposing to be comprehensive in its presentation of Intermedia practice or ideas, I hope this article is useful in encouraging a conversation at Iowa and beyond about Intermedia. Intermedia at Iowa is, by definition, a conversation, and a work in progress. We ceaselessly look forward, with delight and anticipation, to the reinventions, collaborations, research and initiatives ahead.


1. Intermedia launched and directs a pilot graduate studio project in Rijeka, a Croatian port city on the Adriatic, in partnership with the University of Rijeka Applied Arts Academy, and Molekula, an artist-centered media arts collective. With just a hint of postmodern irony, the project is dubbed “Projekt Oko Sokolovo,” (Croatian for “Project Hawkeye”) after the university’s mascot.

2.  From "Real Estate," section 4, p. 32 of (Frame: 1971-1990). The full sentence is: "Hollow blocks pile up in windowless rooms: the train ceaselessly reinvents the station." Watten comments, in reply to my request for information on the quote: “The first half of the sentence seems to reference Judd, and the second probably riffs off Breton, but I'm not sure.”

3. Amanda Stephanie Parker, a freshman at Iowa, explains the origins of the use of the shortened designation: “I was using the word Facebook so many times in every conversation, I had to shorten it to “The Book.””

Jon Winet (jon-winet at uiowa.edu) is The University of Iowa School of Art and Art History Intermedia Area Head and the director of The Virtual Writing University Experimental Wing. He is currently in production on “The Electoral College,” http://www.america-the-globe.net/tec a media project focusing on the 2008 U.S. presidential elections.