Associate Professor and Artist, Columbia College Chicago
“Indeed, the distribution of wealth is too important an issue to be left to economists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers.”
– Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century 
“The only way to support a revolution is to make your own.”
– Abbie Hoffman 
The inspiration for the current incarnation of Media Lounge is the ongoing global economic crisis, the subsequent attention drawn to income inequality and the high cost of education in the United States. As we have seen through the Occupy movement, activists and artists have worked together to influence the language framing these issues, and in certain cases, policy. It is our belief that artists, curators and critics, though their diverse practices, bring distinctive approaches to addressing these significant social and cultural challenges.
The Media Lounge committee for CAA 2015 aimed to provide space for critical engagement of these topics using the theme Alternative Economies. “Alternative economies” is a term used to describe economic models that seek to fight for income equality, fair labor practices and a living wage for low-income workers. In developing the 2015 program, we took inspiration from groups such as Arts & Labor (artsandlabor.org), a working group associated with #occupywallstreet, the Overpass Light Brigade, (overpasslightbrigade.org) and BFAMFAPhD (bfamfaphd.com) to actively create programming that addresses these themes.
This year’s programming included a workshop on alternative art school models, integrated screenings and roundtables by video and media artists who use digital media tactically for provocation and intervention, and a workshop centered on how artists can use social and communication technologies to enhance collaboration and disrupt established models of art making and distribution. Additionally, this year marked the first formal collaboration between Media Lounge and the New Media Caucus. The New Media Caucus was a logical partner because its members sit at the margins of the commercial art world and have shown significant member interest in the intersection of technology, politics and activism through its choice of CAA panels and independent events.
The question became how to proceed with the formation of what amounted to a day’s worth of content. The New Media Caucus’ Events Committee began with a series of discussions about how to best balance addressing the theme, Alternative Economies, while providing ample opportunity for member presentations and interaction. It quickly became apparent that the committee valued an Occupy-inspired decentralized democratic process with the goal of maintaining openness to unexpected formats and sub-topics.
The committee wanted to bring to bear the diversity of perspectives represented by the New Media Caucus’ 900-plus members, who include new media practitioners, scholars, and curators. The solution was a two-part call for proposals, first to elicit generalized topics, formats and artists/presenters whose work aligned with the themes. From these responses, the committee selected a set of themes and formats and developed a secondary call for participants.
Of the numerous proposals, two sessions were selected: Disruptive Bodies, Disruptive Narratives, organized by Liss LaFleur and Ash Eliza Smith, and Explorations of Alternative Economies, with presenters Chaz Evans, Gregory Sholette, and Tyler Stefanich. These sessions comprised inspiring presentations, performances and interactions with art works that included more than 48 artists and/or collectives.
Identity, Configurations Of Outsiders in Economic Order explored works that subvert dominant models of a wide array of topics including transmedia, gender, sexuality and bodily identities and Explorations of Alternative Economies focused on the unique opportunities new media artist have to form adaptive and embedded economies through the use of digital tools and strategies. While the topics addressed by both sessions were often controversial, uncomfortable and radical both the presenters and audience allowed for communication that simultaneously embraced risk and vulnerability. The diversity of presented works represents how new media artists are conceiving projects that can subvert, intervene or augment our existing economic systems.
Media Lounge produces an impressive four days of programming as part of Art Space, a conference in a conference of the annual College Art Association (CAA) Conference. Art Space and the Services to Artists Committee that generates the programming, is dedicated to artist-oriented content that is free and open to the public. CAA and a generous matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts support Art Space and our many activities including Media Lounge.
Art Space and Media Lounge were created to provide a venue to focus attention on the artistic, scholarly output and related issues that are important to artists within the larger College Art Association community. During the past two years the Media Lounge has experimented with alternatives to a screening-only model of programming that includes workshops, teach-ins, roundtables, performances and integrated screenings. These formats aim to enhance interaction by artists and the College Art Association Membership.
To produce engaging programming requires the expertise and labor of many people, most of whom generously volunteer their time. I would like to take is opportunity to thank my collaborators on the Media Lounge sub-committee for championing the collaboration between the New Media Caucus and the Services to Artists Committee of the College Art Association. The Media Lounge committee includes myself, Stacey Miller, and Jenny Marketou, committee chair. Many thanks are due to the CAA professional staff for their support in producing and promoting Art Space. Without the staff’s behind-the-scenes efforts we would not have Art Space, Media Lounge, or the CAA conference.
I want to recognize and thank the organizers of the New Media Caucus programming who orchestrated the calls for participation and facilitated the sessions. This includes NMC/Media Lounge Event Co-Chairs Elizabeth Demaray, Darren Douglas Floyd, and Christina Freeman; committee members Joshua Selman, Sid Branka, and The New Media Caucus Events Committee Chair, Joyce Rudinsky. Finally, I want to thank the panel organizers and artists for sharing their insights and work.
- Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), 2.
- Abbie Hoffman, Revolution for the Hell of It (New York: Dial Press, 1968), 188.
Mat Rappaport’s art-work has been exhibited domestically and internationally in museums, galleries, film festivals and public spaces. His current work utilizes mobile video, performance and photography to explore habitation, perception and power as related to built environments. Rappaport is a co-initiator of v1b3 (www.v1b3.com), which seeks to shape the experience of urban environments through site-specific media-based interventions, and curatorial projects.Rappaport has published essays in the iDMAa Journal and in the book Beyond Globalization: Making New Worlds in Media, Art and Social Practices by Rutgers University Press.Rappaport’s photographic work is included in the Midwest Photographer’s Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. He has received fellowships from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Howard Foundation, the Mary L. Nohl Fund and the Center for 21st Century Studies. Rappaport is an Associate Professor at Columbia College in Chicago.