Golan Levin: Our final pre­sen­ta­tion this evening is from Valencia James, a Barbadian free­lance per­former, mak­er, and researcher inter­est­ed in the inter­sec­tion between dance, the­ater, tech­nol­o­gy, and activism. She believes in the pow­er of the arts to inspire change. In 2013, Valencia cofound­ed the AI_am project, which explores the appli­ca­tion of machine learn­ing and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence in dance. The project has been pre­sent­ed at sev­er­al inter­na­tion­al forums such as the 2015 International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, and pre­miered their first evening-length work in Budapest and Gothenburg in 2017

Valencia cre­ates solo works which explore stereo­types and post-colonial nar­ra­tives, and has per­formed inter­na­tion­al­ly. She cofound­ed the Volumetric Performance Toolbox, a col­lab­o­ra­tive project with Glowbox and Sorob Louie, which envi­sions live online vol­u­met­ric per­for­mance as a new way for artists to cre­ate and per­form from their own liv­ing spaces, and audi­ences to com­mu­nal­ly expe­ri­ence art­works using min­i­mal equip­ment. Valencia James. 

Valencia James: Hello every­one. Let me just share my screen. Okay. Thank you so much Golan for hav­ing me on this amaz­ing res­i­den­cy. It’s just such an hon­or and a priv­i­lege to be here with you all. And I just want­ed to start this pre­sen­ta­tion by giv­ing a bit of con­text about who I am and the lens that I bring to my work. So, I am a Black femme from the island of Barbados. This is a very tiny island in the Caribbean. 

And it’s not just…like, it might be tiny but it has had a great sig­nif­i­cance in the way that we see the world work­ing today. Because this was a key place his­tor­i­cal­ly in the British Empire and the estab­lish­ment of the sug­ar trade and the transat­lantic slave trade, because Barbados was known as a sug­ar island. And this was the first plantation-based soci­ety. And so this is where the first leg­is­la­tion was estab­lished that shapes the race rela­tions in the US today, because it was first estab­lished in Barbados and then used in the United States in terms of how black peo­ple were treat­ed and laws like…you know how a Black female slave, her chil­dren would be slaves as well auto­mat­i­cal­ly. And that’s some­thing that was unprece­dent­ed at that moment. 

And so, it’s this kind of sen­si­bil­i­ty that I bring to my work, and also impor­tant­ly I am a move­ment and per­form­ing artist. And so my work with tech starts from my move­ment prac­tice. And it comes from a place of curios­i­ty about how emerg­ing tech will impact the way I cre­ate and how it will impact the future of per­form­ing arts. And so in this slide you see a still from the the­ater pro­duc­tion AI am here” that we pre­miered in 2017, which was a cul­mi­na­tion of about five years of research with some cre­ative tech­nol­o­gists from Sweden and Hungary. And we estab­lished the project AI_am in 2013

And so our ini­tial ques­tion was how could I teach a com­put­er to dance? And so, togeth­er with the cre­ative tech­nol­o­gists Alexander Berman, Gabor Papp, Gáspár Hajdu, and Botond Bognar, we devel­oped a tool. And I’ll start that video. And so you can just see we cre­at­ed this open source software-based tool that I used as a dance part­ner. And I was think­ing about how can we use AI as a way to inspire new move­ments. And so, tak­ing the lim­i­ta­tions of our researches—we did­n’t have any access to a fan­cy motion cap­ture lab—we cre­at­ed a tool that uses a very finite amount of dance data to cre­ate an expo­nen­tial amount of nov­el move­ments. And this is like a low-rez ver­sion of the work that— We did­n’t have mon­ey for real­ly great ren­der­ings. But then we even­tu­al­ly got to a place that we could present the work and also speak to the issues of how machine learn­ing was viewed in that time. It was a [indis­tinct] to me of like either it’s like an amaz­ing sav­ior or it’s a slave or some­thing that we have to be afraid of. But we thought of how AI could be seen as equal cre­ative partner. 

And I start with this because this was the start­ing point and the ori­gin of the Volumetric Toolbox because as you can see in this clip, I am con­stant­ly look­ing at this flat sur­face of an avatar in a dig­i­tal envi­ron­ment, and I got increas­ing­ly per­plexed by this awk­ward divide of my phys­i­cal space and the avatar’s dig­i­tal space. 

What if the performer went into the virtual space?

And then dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, the­aters were closed and my per­for­mances were can­celled. And you know, we were look­ing at how can we restage this piece. And I real­ized well, what if I as the per­former would go into the vir­tu­al space? And it was from this crazy idea that the Volumetric Performance Toolbox was born. And so this is a col­lab­o­ra­tive project between myself com­ing from an artist’s point of view and also some­one who makes her own tools, and the spa­tial inter­ac­tion lab Glowbox and Sorob Louie who is a cre­ative technologist. 

And we envi­sion this tool­box as a way that artists can per­form from their own liv­ing spaces using min­i­mal equip­ment. And so it became pos­si­ble via a fel­low­ship by Eyebeam called Rapid Response. And so we were lucky enough to have fund­ing for two phas­es. And it’s with­in the sec­ond phase that Golan reached out to me. And so like half of the time I was at OSSTA res­i­den­cy we were work­ing on this project. 

And so I’ll talk a lit­tle bit very briefly about the tool­box. We are envi­sion­ing low-cost open hard­ware, open source soft­ware, that would allow artists to cre­ate vir­tu­al per­for­mances in Mozilla Hubs, which is a social vir­tu­al­i­ty plat­form. And through­out this process that was very much spear­head­ed by my artis­tic cre­ation of per­for­mance in Mozilla Hubs, we came up with an edu­ca­tion­al pro­gram that would allow any artist to cre­ate their own live vol­u­met­ric performance. 

And so our vision is that this type of tech­nol­o­gy would be acces­si­ble to the artist, which would be what we see as our pri­ma­ry audi­ence. Performing artists any­where, and espe­cial­ly those who do not know how to code and who are usu­al­ly not part of the cre­ation and use of tech­nolo­gies. As well as audi­ences that would be any­one who would like to have a com­mu­nal art expe­ri­ence. And the idea is how can we make this hap­pen using min­i­mal equip­ment and not need­ing spe­cial equip­ment. So we found ways to have this all hap­pen via web brows­er and using your desk­top com­put­er. And we’re very much com­mit­ted to the tenets of lib­er­a­tion and with pri­or­i­tiz­ing com­mu­ni­ties that are usu­al­ly harms by technologies. 

So, this project was very much spear­head­ed by just my curios­i­ty with these tech­nolo­gies and the real need for per­form­ing artists to have a way to con­tin­ue to prac­tice their liveli­hoods and per­form in the time of the pan­dem­ic when the­aters were closed down. And so in this slide I’m just show­ing the start of that process. Because those artis­tic find­ings and my own process was what shaped the tech­ni­cal devel­op­ment rather than the oth­er way around. And so my col­lab­o­ra­tor at Glowbox Thomas Wester—you see him in the pho­to on the left—shipped me a depth cam­era and we start­ed using the Microsoft Azure Kinect cam­era to start my research. And on the right you see my move­ment explo­ration that I record­ed. So the depth-sensing infor­ma­tion is on the bot­tom and the nor­mal RGB video is on the top.

And my inter­est as a per­former in vol­u­met­ric video was that first of all I did­n’t need to use an avatar to rep­re­sent myself in vir­tu­al space, because I could be rep­re­sent­ed as I am. And I think that’s very pow­er­ful being a Black femme approach­ing a vir­tu­al space that’s usu­al­ly dom­i­nat­ed by white cis­gen­dered male users and cre­ators. And so this was a big part of why vol­u­met­ric video was what we used. And also that as a cre­ator, I get agency to cre­ate my own stage. And that was real­ly pow­er­ful in this time when you know, a lot of these online expe­ri­ences and social media are already cre­at­ed for you and then of course influ­ence the way you exist and behave in these platforms. 

Afro-now-ism is tak­ing the leap and the risks to imag­ine and define one­self beyond sys­temic oppression…The ques­tion is not only what injus­tices are you fight­ing against, but what do you in your heart of hearts want to create?
Towards an Equitable Ecosystem of Artificial Intelligence [slide]

And so ear­ly on in my process— This was like in July when you had the killing of George Floyd. And I was able to ground myself in my prac­tice of con­nec­tion with my ances­tors. And I was very inspired by Stephanie Dinkins. She’s a trans­me­dia artist and her quote on Afro-now-ism and look­ing at what in my heart of hearts I want to cre­ate, even in this time of unrest and want­i­ng to be reac­tionary, but how can I real­ly speak to the issues that mat­ter to me but from a place of true cre­ation and ances­tral connection. 

And so I was also very inspired by Her Majesty Queen Mother Dòwòti Désir’s work; she’s the queen moth­er of Benin and also a schol­ar and Voudou priest. And she speaks about the con­cept of spa­tial jus­tice as the right to the African descen­dants to the mem­o­ry and com­mem­o­ra­tion of the injus­tices that they had been sub­ject­ed to. And also Octavia Butler’s work Kindred.

And so all these influ­ences brought me to the cre­ation of our first vol­u­met­ric per­for­mance. And you prob­a­bly rec­og­nize maybe the struc­ture from my ear­li­er slide, because in my research I also found SCI-Arc’s spa­tial data of a sug­ar mill. It’s a sug­ar mill ruin, and this was actu­al­ly scanned in the Caribbean. And this is a very impor­tant kind of struc­ture because you see these ruins in all of the islands around the Caribbean. And so with this work, I’m think­ing of dig­i­tal spaces and vir­tu­al envi­ron­ments as a pos­si­ble site for heal­ing and recla­ma­tion of spaces that were his­tor­i­cal­ly filled with pain and injus­tice. And so I’m gonna just show a short clip. 

So, what you just saw was one of our ear­ly per­for­mances. And we test­ed out the con­cept there, and one of the big ques­tions we had was about liveness. 

And so in this pho­to and in the clip you might’ve noticed some lit­tle avatars float­ing around. That’s actu­al­ly the audi­ence mem­bers with­in Mozilla Hubs. And again, that’s a social vir­tu­al real­i­ty space. You can access it through your web brows­er by a URL, and you go in there and you’re embod­ied by this avatar and you move around using the WASD keys. Kinda like you’ll be in a video game. Personally it took awhile for me to get used to mov­ing in that space. But what we found was that we got beau­ti­ful feed­back that you real­ly had the sense of live­ness. And this was a big ques­tion about how do you repli­cate that com­mu­nal expe­ri­ence and that sense of live­ness that we have when we expe­ri­ence a the­ater piece together. 

And so with this pilot per­for­mance, we were able to see that actu­al­ly yes, you do have that sense of live­ness and the sense of wit­ness­ing and the sense of inti­ma­cy in that space. And so in this clip you’re see­ing a still from the Q&A ses­sion, where we could use our web­cams like how we do with Zoom, and we could have that kind of inter­ac­tion even in this kind of vir­tu­al space. 

So from this there’s a big ques­tion of okay, how do we pack­age this in a way that any artist can cre­ate their own vol­u­met­ric per­for­mances in online spaces and not need a huge bud­get. And one of the things that came out of this first phase was the per­for­mance kit, which is the low-cost open hard­ware that was devel­oped by Sorob Louie and also Glowbox. And so this kit has a small Intel depth cam­era and a Raspberry Pi. And so the whole idea is how will we make this— Because nor­mal­ly this type of equip­ment, it needs a very expen­sive set­up. And so this costs about $400, and so this is some­thing that we were able to ship to artist to get them set up quickly. 

And the next ele­ment of the tool­box is the open source-based cus­tomized soft­ware that Thomas Wester from Glowbox devel­oped. And this is where we can tie the pipeline of the Mozilla Hubs plat­form togeth­er with the depth video that you get from the hard­ware and cre­ate a 3D rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the artist in vir­tu­al space. 

And so by tying these strings togeth­er, we were able to cre­ate the per­for­mance. This is show­ing how we placed the vol­u­met­ric stream. The stream also goes through a livestream­ing plat­form called Mux. And in that way this is how we cre­ate the performance. 

And what we did in the sec­ond phase of our fel­low­ship at Eyebeam was to bring this all togeth­er into a series of work­shops and cre­ate a res­i­den­cy with­in a res­i­den­cy. And so the goal of these work­shops was how do we build a com­mu­ni­ty of cre­ators to have a plat­form of colearn­ing and cocre­ation. Because you know, as the per­form­ing artist I was still grap­pling with how do I even start cre­at­ing in 3D? I don’t have cod­ing skills. And I was think­ing about how can we make this easy for any­one just like me to pick it up and start creating?

And so we host­ed this kind of pilot res­i­den­cy in December and January, and we cre­at­ed this in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Simon Boas of Glowbox as well as the wider com­mu­ni­ty of cre­ators like Lauren Lee McCarthy, and LaJuné McMillian, and Tony Patrick. They all—as well as [indis­tinct] and Jesse Escobedo and [indis­tinct], and they all came togeth­er via Zoom. So this is a still from our first call. And we came togeth­er to speak about how can we cre­ate a future for online per­for­mances and envi­sion a decol­o­nized and decen­tral­ized future and vision for it for the per­for­mance? Because I real­ly think of this way of cre­at­ing as like the birth of a new genre that will con­tin­ue to be rel­e­vant and ground­break­ing beyond the pan­dem­ic. I real­ly think that once we can get back into the­aters that new shows would also have a vir­tu­al ele­ment to it.

And so we were think­ing about how can we cre­ate this in a way that makes sure we include com­mu­ni­ties from those mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties that tend to be left out of the cre­ation of these tools. And so we invit­ed sev­en mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary artists from these dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties, includ­ing dis­abled com­mu­ni­ties, LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty, and Black and indige­nous and peo­ple of col­or. And we shipped each of these artists a kit, and had these work­shops of cocre­ation. We also made these work­shops open access via our Medium page.

So this was the result of that process. and this is like a vision of how we see the tool­box used going from now on into the future as a way in which artists can cre­ate their own worlds based on the core val­ues that we have set about through this res­i­den­cy. It was real­ly impor­tant that we set out shared com­mu­ni­ty val­ues that are based on the tenets of lib­er­a­tion for all. And so we think of this as a way that we can empow­er artists of any kind to build their own worlds and real­ly speak to real-world issues from their actions in vir­tu­al space. And I real­ly think that this is the huge poten­tial of this work. 

And so I’m out of time I real­ize. And so I’m just gonna skip to our next steps…

Throughout this res­i­den­cy I’m very grate­ful for this. Thank you again, Golan. And to my fel­low cohort and every­one at the STUDIO, in this res­i­dence we were able to make the next steps in onboard­ing more artists onto our cus­tom Mozilla Hubs client so that they can con­tin­ue using the plat­form for their own exper­i­ments and cre­at­ing their own per­for­mances. And we’re also learn­ing. I’m per­son­al­ly learn­ing a lot about open source projects and how you can sus­tain­ably cre­ate this. Because I’m real­ly invest­ed in mak­ing this about a com­mu­ni­ty of con­trib­u­tors and cre­ators, and mak­ing sure that it’s some­thing that any­one can approach and cre­ate and con­tribute to. 

So thank you so much. and if you would like to join us on this jour­ney, please don’t hes­i­tate to con­tact us at volumetricperformance@​gmail.​com.

Golan Levin: Valencia, thank you so much. I was amaz­ing­ly priv­i­leged to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to attend the per­for­mance in Mozilla Hubs. And it was real­ly extra­or­di­nary to see some­body per­form­ing live with a point cloud pro­ject­ed into the brows­er and immersed in an artist-designed three-dimensional vir­tu­al envi­ron­ment that I could freely nav­i­gate with­in. It was real­ly… I haven’t seen some­thing like it before. And I hope we see more of these both from you and from the col­lab­o­ra­tors you have. 

I thought some­thing that we could do that would be fun is actu­al­ly have like a five- to ten- minute kind of con­ver­sa­tion with A.M. and Bomani, who are still here with us and invite them back. A.M. and Bomani, if you want to jump in. 

I can kick it off with a ques­tion but I would love to actu­al­ly just also hear the three of you ask each oth­er ques­tions as well. Hi, Bomani. And wel­come back A.M. if you can join us as well. 

A.M. Darke: I will, but I’m fin­ish­ing my last bite of lunch. [all laugh]

Levin: That’s super. I’m gonna maybe spiel for just a sec­ond. Because I mean, it’s been a huge priv­i­lege to work with you this past semes­ter as our cre­atives in res­i­dence at the STUDIO and as part of the OSSTA platform. 

I think that in devel­op­ing open source soft­ware toolk­its for the arts, there’s a sort of…already a dou­ble strug­gle. The dou­ble finan­cial strug­gle, right, of work­ing in the cul­tur­al and arts sec­tor. And then also work­ing in the open source sec­tor. Because you know, there’s not like VC mon­ey that’s kind of pour­ing in to fund this work. So there’s a dou­ble strug­gle there. But you’ve tak­en on the triple strug­gle of not just mak­ing some tools that hap­pen to be free and also help us make pret­ty pic­tures, but also that such an impor­tant aspect to what you’re doing in terms of decol­o­niz­ing tech­nolo­gies and cre­at­ing fem­i­nist and anti-racist tech­nolo­gies as tools to empow­er oth­ers. I think it’s a huge chal­lenge, giv­en his­to­ries of rep­re­sen­ta­tion in ani­ma­tion and the arts. Given his­to­ries of bias and vio­lence in machine learn­ing and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. So there’s a third strug­gle there. And there are so many dif­fer­ent strate­gies that I see in the work that you’ve been doing. Increasing rep­re­sen­ta­tion among the con­trib­u­tors. Increasing rep­re­sen­ta­tion among the users and audi­ence. Increasing rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the art­works itself that are made with these sys­tems. Increasing access. Being care­ful about tex­tu­al lan­guages of fram­ing, design lan­guages, codes of con­duct. I won­der if maybe you could speak to your favorites of these. You know, how hope­ful you are for these kinds of things. And also if you have ques­tions for each oth­er that arise from your own pre­sen­ta­tions and your own expe­ri­ence over the past few months. 

Darke: I don’t have a ques­tion, I have just real­ly a com­ment. I’m so inspired by both Bomani and Valencia’s work. And I find it real­ly heart­en­ing that all of us are real­ly hav­ing an eye toward acces­si­bil­i­ty, right. Like cul­tur­al, tech­no­log­i­cal acces­si­bil­i­ty, com­mu­ni­ty acces­si­bil­i­ty. And some­thing that I feel was­n’t avail­able to me as I was mov­ing through these var­i­ous sys­tems, whether it’s visu­al art, tech­nol­o­gy, the inter­sec­tion of both, like even acad­e­mia, is that aware­ness of a kind of cul­ture acces­si­bil­i­ty. Being thought­ful about the prac­tices, being thought­ful about the com­mu­ni­ty. You know, think­ing about the kind of implic­it hier­ar­chies around who’s pro­fi­cient or who has cer­tain kinds of knowl­edge. And I real­ly just…you know, I see that deep com­mu­ni­ty focus that’s not just sort of…it goes beyond just the lan­guage. It goes beyond just say­ing like oh, we’re going to cre­ate a space and here’s a com­mu­ni­ty,” but like under­stand­ing— I for­get what that amaz­ing quote that Bomani had up, which was like— Oh Bomani, you have to jump in and actu­al­ly just say it. That it’s like a con­tin­u­ous prac­tice, it’s not sort of like a momen­tary thing. And I just…I’m both over­whelmed by that as some­one who’s now start­ing in care­tak­ing an open source project, but also feel­ing that respon­si­bil­i­ty and that priv­i­lege to sort of hold the space and try to nour­ish it. So yeah, that’s my long-winded comment. 

Valencia James:Yeah, I’m also very inspired by you all. And A.M., know that your work was cit­ed in those ear­ly work­shops by some of the par­tic­i­pants as one of the inspir­ing projects and peo­ple out there doing this type of work of com­mu­ni­ty and decol­o­niz­ing. And I’m very much inspired as well by the p5.js and ml5.js com­mu­ni­ty in under­stand­ing how…the code of con­duct and com­mu­ni­ty state­ments, that was ear­ly on in our process as well. That was a big inspi­ra­tion. And so I’m still learn­ing about how we can build com­mu­ni­ty and make sure that we’re not work­ing in silos. Because that’s some­thing I had to unlearn. So yeah, I’m just inspired to learn more about those prac­tices. So Bomani if you could speak a bit about the ways in which we can learn to cre­ate more col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly in that way that would be great. 

Bomani Oseni McClendon: Yeah, I want to echo you all in say­ing I’m super inspired by the things that you all shared. And I’m always appre­cia­tive hav­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to just be in the Zoom, or in the space and be able to hear and kin­da under­stand the way that you all come to your ideas. And I agree, I think that one of the things that I’ve also found per­son­al­ly has been super impor­tant in this whole dura­tional prac­tice of open source is just like, find­ing ways to kind of stay ener­getic and revi­tal­ize our­selves. I think meet­ings like this are impor­tant, and I think hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions and get­ting excit­ed and gen­er­at­ing ideas is important. 

But I’m also real­ly excit­ed by the way that both of you all in the pre­sen­ta­tions that you shared have put in a lot of effort to cre­ate these forms of com­mu­ni­ty infra­struc­ture through pro­grams, or work­shops, or by hir­ing and sup­port­ing folks, send­ing out open calls. And I’m actu­al­ly real­ly try­ing to under­stand how to do that bet­ter myself. And so I would love to know if either of you would be will­ing to kin­da share just some of your insights for peo­ple who maybe are just get­ting start­ed with that process of try­ing to…for lack of a bet­ter word social­ize or communalize”—I don’t even know if that’s a real word—parts of their work in the open source kin­da domain. 

Levin: Both Valencia and A.M. made res­i­den­cies with­in residencies. 

Darke: [laughs] Yeah. I mean, I can tell y’all how I’ve been stum­bling through it, right? I’m like, I think the first day of in this res­i­den­cy I was like, I don’t know how to do a res­i­den­cy. I guess I’ll learn. Maybe I’ll be one week ahead of my own.

You know, I’m some­one who that has his­tor­i­cal­ly been very siloed, has not had many col­lab­o­ra­tions, have— You know, I love to col­lab­o­rate but I found that as I was com­ing up my ideas were not under­stood until they were com­plete. And then peo­ple are like oh, that’s so smart” or that’s so bril­liant,” or I just could­n’t imag­ine it before.” 

And it’s like, you could­n’t imag­ine it because it was cen­tered on like, this body or in this expe­ri­ence. I always kind of felt a lit­tle like, resent­ful because I did­n’t have all of these skills. I was­n’t a pro­gram­mer. I did­n’t— You know, I had to very slow­ly start pick­ing up all of these skills. Because I did­n’t have the option to real­ly work with you know, a wide spread of people. 

And so now, like— Hell, I’ve been doing this for like ten years I guess now, it’s like oh okay. I have a lit­tle bit of a plat­form. I have this oppor­tu­ni­ty. Now peo­ple are lis­ten­ing to the things I say, which is still very…weird. And I think I’m hav­ing to go through this tran­si­tion of like, oh I can col­lab­o­rate. Oh I don’t have to do every­thing myself. Oh, I can ask for help. I can have a vision and it’s okay to say like, Can you help me with this?” and not just can you like employ or deploy my vision but can we work on it togeth­er? Can we build and expand?

And at least for me this has been a part of my prac­tice for…for a while, is just start­ing with a kind of rad­i­cal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and trans­paren­cy. So actu­al­ly, we did­n’t have enough time but I actu­al­ly start­ed my talk with— I start­ed to make slides, and I made one slide. And I was like I hate mak­ing slides. Like I lit­er­al­ly hate it. I find it very con­fin­ing, and rigid, and it’s not my style. And I went on this whole thing like why am I doing this? Why am I con­stant­ly feel­ing like I have to per­form in a cer­tain nor­ma­tive way? And it’s like… By the way, if you could see my slides all my slides have lit­er­al­ly the speech in them and I was like yeah, that’s the way to do it. To be hon­est about the fact that like, I don’t have a lot of mod­els to tell peo­ple this is what I want to do and be trans­par­ent about the fact that I’m not total­ly sure where it’s going. 

In my ini­tial call to the res­i­den­cy, I had like— You know these three things that you have to agree to accept the fel­low­ship. And the third one was like, to be patient with me as I fig­ure out how to nav­i­gate this thing for the very first time. And you know, it’s real­ly scary but I found that kind of like— Literally going on Twitter and being like This is what I want to do. I’m look­ing to craft lov­ing depic­tions of black­ness. Where do I start?” Yeah, I felt very embraced and wel­come, and where I used to feel like an island I feel much more like an arch­i­pel­ago, you know, con­nect­ing with folks. So that’s where I start. With just…the thing that we don’t see. Especially in soft­ware and even cer­tain art spaces, it’s like every­thing has to be—even with a presentation—everything has to be fully-formed and pol­ished. As if not sul­lied by the grub­by hands of the creator. 

And it’s like no, I’m grub­by. I’m a mess. But I’m an excit­ed mess. And like, if you want to get in this mess with me, let’s do it. So that’s how I’m doin’ it. 

James: I love that. Owning like, this is a process, and it’s gonna be messy, and we’re fig­ur­ing out as we go, right? I must say that some­times I can get over­whelmed. Because at the begin­ning of the sec­ond phase, when we were try­ing to fig­ure out how to make this res­i­den­cy. So I can relate to what you’re talk­ing about. It was kin­da like, the best advice I got was just to keep hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple who were inter­est­ed in the work. And it’s through those con­ver­sa­tions that I found okay, maybe the way I was think­ing about it before is lim­it­ing so why not make this in community? 

And at first I was like, oh how can we make this for move­ment artists? And I was think­ing like, [indis­tinct] artists, we’d do this. But I real­ized that no, we need to have peo­ple from move­ment and media…you know, so every­one can make sup­port each oth­er. And then I real­ized that oh, it could also be a time of colearn­ing. So get peo­ple skill shar­ing from my com­mu­ni­ty. Just com­ing in and shar­ing, from peo­ple mak­ing 3D mod­els to…I don’t know, world-building—we had Tony Patrick give us a world-building work­shop which was amaz­ing. So, I real­ized we have to do this in community. 

McClendon: Yeah, I love that. And I love…A.M. in response to kin­da what you were speak­ing about with the slides con­cept as well, I think that’s some­thing— That brought rad­i­cal vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, some­thing I’ve also been try­ing to learn. Slowly, but try­ing. And it actu­al­ly came up in a con­ver­sa­tion with a new con­trib­u­tor the oth­er day, where some­one was kind of like Hey, I’m notic­ing these bugs. And I’m notic­ing these issues in some of the doc­u­men­ta­tion” and so on and so forth. And I’ve rec­og­nized that at that moment I had to just kin­da be hon­est like, yeah…there are issues. Y’all are fit­tin’ to get some bugs, some doc­u­men­ta­tion errors. Y’all fit­tin’ to get some bro­ken exam­ples. Like that’s just where we are and I think that being able to like, instead of… Personally I think one of the things I need to remind myself of is that the way to address that is not always to just rush and try to make the fix, and instead it’s just to be okay with some­thing not being fin­ished” or being pol­ished” but rather just being okay with the fact that like, we’re in just dif­fer­ent stages of bro­ken­ness or you know, main­te­nance, or recov­ery, so and so forth. So yeah, I think that’s some­thing that I real­ly want to reflect on as well from what you all are speak­ing to.


I think I’ll wrap it there. I want to thank all three of you so much. For the audi­ence online, you can fol­low A.M.‘s work the Open Source Afro Hair Library. Valencia James, the Volumetric Performance Toolbox. Bomani has been work­ing on the ml5.js toolk­it for machine learn­ing on the Web. I want to thank all three of you so much for your won­der­ful con­tri­bu­tions to this evening of pre­sen­ta­tions, and more gen­er­al­ly to our Open Source Software Toolkits for the Arts res­i­den­cy at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry.