Campus Life

New media practices converge across disciplines

Students entering the field of new media might not be aware of all the ways new media tools are being used across disciplines.

Leanne Elias, University of Lethbridge New Media professor, wanted to give students a sense of the possibilities by showcasing how emerging artists are using new media tools. The resulting website, New Media Intersections, was launched recently and already it has proven to be a hit.

“I think it’s been a great recruitment tool for Fine Arts at the University of Lethbridge. We’ve had 16,000 views,” says Elias, adding that most of the views have come from the United States, Eastern Canada and Europe.

With support from the Interdisciplinary Research Development Fund (IRDF), Elias joined forces with Dr. Janice Rahn (Education), Denton Fredrickson (Art), Dana Cooley (New Media) and Dr. John Usher of the Faculty of Management for the project. They interviewed artists, designers and developers who use new media techniques and tools.

“We were looking for some commonalities because here, and in many institutions, things are categorized by our departments. There’s a lot of crossover and that was one of the questions we had,” says Elias. “We also wanted to ask people working in this field how they deal with the constant struggle of the ever-changing technologies that we’re all asked to work with.”

That was the seed for New Media Intersections, a site that features both professional and student artists, and shows how they blend new media and fine arts.

“We were looking for the up-and-coming artists and how they’re approaching the problems with technology and artmaking,” says Elias.

Their research, regardless of discipline, soon pointed them to the burgeoning field of data visualization.

“Everyone’s working with big data so it was interesting to see how artists and designers were approaching that problem,” says Elias.

For example, New York artist Kyle Macdonald and a partner have been visualizing sound. They recorded the gestures people made when they described a word, transcribed the gestures into a 3D model and printed it to provide a physical representation of a sound.

Elias, Cooley and Fredrickson wanted to get students involved, so they collaborated on a course for anyone interested in data visualization. As part of the course curriculum, the students were required to complete projects, which are featured on the New Media Intersections website.

In addition, they invited Evelyn Eastmond, a Boston software developer who completed a master’s degree in visual arts and is one of the artists featured on the site, to come to the U of L for a three-day workshop to talk about how she uses new media tools in her art.

The project also led to the opening of a data visualization lab and this fall, six new students started working in data visualization and exploration.

“We will continue to interview people for the website,” says Elias. “It has provided great support to students to help them understand what else can be done with their skills, to inspire them more than anything.”