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Gateway is the community newsletter of Pratt Institute. It is published monthly by the Office of Communications, in the Division of Institutional Advancement. For a list of contributors, click here.

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Monday
Oct222012

JENNIFER MILLER MARRIES ART AND POLITICS AT BAM

Faculty member Jennifer Miller's Circus Amok players had their debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.Jennifer Miller, associate professor in the Humanities and Media Studies program, had her first Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) performance on October 12 at BAM’s new, sustainably designed black-box theater, the Richard B. Fisher Building. Miller's performance was flanked by the politically like-minded Dread Scott and Coco Fusco as part of the Brooklyn Bred trilogy curated by Franklin Furnace director Martha Wilson.

“Since 1985, Franklin Furnace has awarded grants to emerging artists selected from among hundreds of proposals submitted from around the world. Jennifer's Circus Amok has won this grant more times than any other artist or group,” said Wilson. “So when Joe Melillo, executive producer of BAM, invited me to curate a performance art series to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Next Wave Festival and the opening of BAM's new Fisher Building, Jennifer came immediately to mind!”

Miller has performed in many venues from public parks where families often join in to the Coney Island sideshow where she performed as a bearded lady, which she, in fact, is. She also has done more personal solo shows like Morphadyke and Free Toasters Everyday. As typical for Miller, the BAM show focused on a current social justice issue, New York City’s controversial “Stop and Frisk” policy, which has been under fire of late for unfairly targeting men of color. The show makes the gentle connection to the prison industrial complex in Upstate New York. Miller agrees with the group Milk Not Jails, that Upstaters would be better served by redeveloping their farming economy instead of focusing on prisons.

In typical Circus Amok style, there were stilt dancers, jugglers, and audience plants. Miller’s clowns range from old school slapstick to Cathy, who, Miller asserts, is an “existential clown,” whose intermittent screams are met with peels of laughter.

The show is a fact and fiction narrative, where Victor, a circus member, is stopped by the police. Miller aims to avoid the preachy, trying to keep people engaged with a balance of fun and political awareness. The audience participates by singing and dancing to the song “Let’s Stop the Frisky” set to the tune of the Scissor Sister’s “Let’s Have a Kiki.” They are told what to do if stopped by police: “Stay cool, stay calm. You have the right to remain silent. Don’t run, don’t resist or they will throw you to the ground. And get their badge number. Keep your hands where the officer can see them.”

Miller’s show included her Circus Amok performers as well as postmodern dancer Steve Paxton, a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater, a troupe that once included Tricia Brown. “Paxton is the father of contact improv,” explained Miller. “It was historic for us to bring Steve in. I was exploring the extremes of bringing together postmodern and pedestrian-based movement forms with the popular showbiz forms of the circus."

”It was an honor to be at BAM and perform in a line-up that included two like-minded artists. It was a lovely experience,” Miller said. “It was perfect for BAM’s new theater. Not so many shows at BAM are breaking the fourth wall and saying ‘Hello Everybody!’”

One would think the upcoming Halloween would be a big day for someone like Miller, but apparently it is a busman’s holiday for her. When asked what she was going to be, she responded: “Nothing. When is Halloween? I tend to stay in. You do when your job is dressing up.”

The show had another Pratt connection—many of the costumes were designed by Pratt fashion professor Melanie Schmidt and her students. Miller is currently teaching a course on the New Circus and Introduction to Performance Practice.

Text: Bay Brown
Image: Rahav Segev

Monday
Oct222012

ARCHITECTS REVEAL THE CITY’S NEW FORM IN VENICE

UG Architecture Professor Michael Chen finds that we can get the most complete representation of the city that has ever existed by looking at that the infrastructure of mobile phone base stations.Michael Chen and Justin Snider, assistant professors in the UG Architecture program, had the honor of having their project City Sensing: Signal Spaces included in the 13th Venice Biennale of Architecture this summer.

The project was one of 100 that were ultimately selected by a jury for display in the United States Pavilion, which for the first time ever in the Biennale’s 26-year history was premiated, receiving the Golden Lion Special Mention. Curated by the Institute for Urban Design, the exhibition within the U.S. Pavilion was titled Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good. Chen and Snider undertook the project through Normal Projects, the firm where Chen is principal and Snider an architect.

Chen, who teaches the required first-year Technics class as well as the fifth-year Thesis Studio, said that the project reflects his teaching methodology, which relies greatly on design research. The team initially conceived the project in conjunction with an article in the forthcoming issue of Bracket, a scholarly journal on architecture and infrastructure.

The project started as a look at the historic relationship between antennas and the development of the skyline. The Empire State Building, and at one time the World Trade Center, both housed most of the city’s broadcast antennae as their height allowed a straight line of site for users. These tall buildings not only represent a cultural significance but a technological one as well, claims Chen.

It evolved into a study of the mobile phone infrastructure, a mode of communication that is today transcending broadcast. One of the significant differences the team found was that mobile towers are privately owned and their locations are largely secret. After a number of antenna-spotting tours with students, the team cross- referenced and mapped the locations of the cellular antennae based on height and age using information they got from the Department of Buildings permits for electrical and structural work. They charted these permits from 2004 to 2012 and found more than 4,000 distinct base stations in New York City. There were so many because, unlike broadcast towers, these base stations have no clear line of site, but instead must accommodate for obstructions, tailoring themselves to the shape of the city through spatial algorithms.

Chen argues that these stations store an incredible amount of information about users: GPS location, whom you talk to, how you pay, etc. This database of information coupled with the physical story the spatial algorithms can explain is the “most complete representation of the city that has ever existed,” declared Chen. “They tell about the physical shape of the city and virtually all of the people in it.”

The team is also working with developers on mobile phone apps that record information that your phone is sharing with your mobile phone network, including which antenna you are communicating with, and they are organizing antenna spotting events to collect images and log the locations of base stations throughout the city with the aim of making all of their work available to the public this winter through a new website that will feature maps, visualizations, and downloadable data and mapping tools for designers, planners, and the general public to use. For more information, click here.

Text: Bay Brown
Photo: Normal Projects

Monday
Oct222012

ID STUDENT CREATES A TOOL INSPIRED BY TEACHER'S NEED

Third-year Industrial Design graduate student Miri Berger is creating an assistive technology device that will help amputees use computers with more ease.For Miri Berger spacing out in class has not been a waste of time. Last year, in Michael McMahon’s Digital Foundation Studio she noticed that the simultaneous mousing and keyboarding required by the menu-heavy CAD software they were using, Maya, meant a lot of juggling for McMahon, who began using a prosthetic limb with a hook after a car accident left him without his lower arm. Now a third-year industrial design graduate student, Berger wondered if an assistive technology device could help those with limited dexterity.

She went home and mentioned her idea to her now husband, Aryeh Katz, who luckily for her is getting his master’s degree in electrical engineering down the street at Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Together they explored what was on the market: tools that could link to brainwaves, breath, and eye movement, all of which had their drawbacks. They made a list of tasks they wanted a new device to do, for example, choose items on a screen and rotate an object. They decided they wanted to create a device that could use the natural movement still left in one arm or shoulder, for example, to control the device electronically.

The couple asked potential users what they needed and there was a resounding interest in a non-invasive device that was easy to configure to their specific needs and was low-cost. The daughter of two physicians in Israel, Berger sought out a doctor who helped them understand anatomy and movement better. They consulted with a surgeon who regularly works with amputees, doing reconnective surgeries and physical therapy. He helped them understand how remaining muscles and nerves might be harnessed.

They are now on their third prototype and have only spent $350. Berger attributes the low cost to their access to talented peers and professors who have given them feedback that has expedited the process. They are currently in the process of securing a patent, which should take about a year and cost $35,000 and until then Berger cannot divulge more about the design and use.

Through Katz’s enrollment at NYU, however, they are both now part of a yearlong competition that the NYU Stern School of Business sponsors, the $200K Entrepreneurs Challenge.

Regardless of whether they win prize money, Berger says they are getting the start-up skills they need to pull it off, from creating a business plan to pitching investors. “I am very excited about it,” said Berger. ”We are on the fast track.”

“It is another carrot for us,” she smiled, adding that they still had a lot more work to do on the device. “We want to work with a veterans' hospital. It is the perfect product for them."

Text: Bay Brown
Photo: Bay Brown