Teaching Science and Technology through the Arts by Maria Driscoll McMahon

The Effect of Electronics on Art 

A fascinating panel discussion called The Effect of Electronics on Arttook place at the State of the Art Gallery in Ithaca, NY recently during which three regional artists delineated some of the ways technology has revolutionized the way they, and many other artists, make art. Of course, the way art is made has vast implications for the way art is or will be taught in our schools. Artists/panelists included John Criscitello from Ithaca, NY; GST BOCES Arts in Education artist, Rhonda Morton from Corning; and Tammy Renée Brackett of Alfred, NY. 

For each one of these singular artists, technology - be it a computer, a camera or a telephone - is considered to be a tool for creating, promoting and disseminating art. It is a tool just as paint and pencils are tools. For each of these artists, the content and the artistic merit of the piece comes first; in some instances, however, it is difficult to separate the tool from the content as the insinuation of technology in every aspect of our lives has a myriad of socio-political implications in and of itself. 

Tammy Renée Brackett 


I push a lot of buttons. Tammy Renée Brackett 

Tammy Renée Brackett is a professor of digital media and animation at Alfred State College. She has exhibited in Japan, Croatia, Hungary, China and the United States and was included in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s biennial exhibition, Beyond/In Western New York in 2005 and 2007. 

Of the three artists who appeared with the panel, Tammy is arguably the “most” technological. Brackett likes to combine old technology with new technology as she frequently strives to leave the viewer with a “question of apocalyptic possibility.” Disturbing revelation is especially pronounced in works such as Spider Goat, about which Tammy writes "Science’s pets very often become culture’s monsters..." Spider Goat was inspired by a real product calledBioSteel, which is genetically engineered material made from spider silk (purported to be the “world’s strongest material”) produced in goat’s milk for the purpose of producing “bulletproof body armor, surgical suture material, and biodegradable fishing line” among other things. 

Spider Goat, video, sculpture, drawing, and materials derived from laboratory 
experiments utilizing the artist's own genomic DNA, December, 2003 

Tammy's educational background includes an MFA in Electronic Integrated Art from the School of Art and Design at Alfred University. Because she is so learned, it may seem surprising to learn that Tammy does not also have a background in molecular biology or genetic engineering. Rather, she learns a lot from her own research and from her associations with friends who are scientists. Sometimes she is given things, such as a hospital’s cast-off bio-feedback machine which Brackett uses extensively in her interactive work. 

While the viewer can surely learn a lot about science through Brackett’s work, it is not Tammy’s intention to merely inform, but tocritique science and the spin it is given through mass media. As the artist herself states, her work “explores the blurry ethics of a frenetic acceleration in acquisition of scientific knowledge.” 

Tammy is also really intrigued with identity formation and the way identity is also manipulated by science and mass media. How do “new” scientific discoveries alter our self-perceptions or our perceptions of others? As for John Criscitello, audio is as important as video in her work. 

In Opus Musivum, for instance, Brackett made a musical score (including her own voice) combined with bio-feedback from the first publication of the map of the human genome. The map, according to Brackett, resembled sheet music. In other works, the x chromosome as well as the "gay gene," are the basis for interactive art. 

While John Criscitello declares that “content is more important than the technology” in his work, it would be difficult to sort out the content from the technology in Brackett’s work. She uses plasma screen, video cameras, computers, specialized software, four channel surround sound and a bio-feedback machine to create an immersive futuristic-seeming world enabling the viewer to better experience – and believe – its dystopian potential. It is science and technology referencing and critiquing itself. Tammy’s work hauntingly and powerfully comments on a thing through its very use. 



Video is a 21st century application of art. It is still in its infancy, however. We are still in 'caveman days' when it comes to digital media. John Criscitello 

Multi-media and installation artist and painter, John Criscitello, has worked as an artist for the past twenty years. He is also the director of a non profit Contemporary Art Space in Ithaca and founded the quarterly screening of video and short film called Video/Art/Ithaca. His videos have been screened regionally and internationally in places including NYC, Michigan, Italy and Brazil. 

John reveals "punk rock roots" and an "ethic of doing with nothing" that has carried him from a working class childhood through to adulthood. He likes to share what he does; thus, he organizes shows and events usually without benefit of funding. Some of these events take place in his own studio in Ithaca and other times, "exterior projections" illuminate the sides of buildings in Ithaca such as theCommunity School of Arts and the Masonic Temple at night. 


John started out as a sculptor and a painter, having won the John H. Loy Honers Award in Painting. He began experimenting with video in 1992 during an artist's residency in Utica, NY. and has been doing it ever since. 

For John, video is more engaging than painting; it is a time-based medium and this provides a "hook" for viewers who always want to "see what's next." 

John indicates that he has always been an artist who works more with objects than people; he enjoys the surprises that sometimes occur in the combination of various - sometimes incongruous - objects. 

He also likes to challenge people's notions, not only of what constitutes art, but reality. He likes to "puncture" the "post-Warholian" world of image, surface and celebrity and call it into question. “This sometimes makes people upset,” says John, but clearly not enough to deter him from his objective. 

John quips that he is a member of the first tv generation of “short cuts and short attention spans.” This is reflected in the kinetic collage quality of his work. To achieve this effect, John films his own footage in addition to mining the creative commons for both video and sound. (He frequently uses "Free Sound," as sources for audio.) John cites the JAWA Manifesto as inspiration for this approach.http://www.tasmanrichardson.com/Jawa_manifesto_2008.pdf 

As with Tammy Renee Brackett, John's work uses technology in a self-referential way; he uses technology and popular culture in order to critique it. Most of all, it is, as Criscitello expresses it, "a continuing exploration of spirituality in a world of loss." 

To read more about John’s views on video art and arts in education, see “A Conversation with John Criscitello” from a previous visit below. 




The Technology I use is very basic. Rhonda Morton 

A GST BOCES artist, Rhonda Morton, founder and creator of Alligator Mouth Five, GirlSmarts and Performance Deli (among other endeavors) described herself as the “least technological” of the three artists, emphasizing that the most important and powerful aspects of her art remain in the human connection and “in person” performances. However, she indicated that she “uses technology from start to finish” in promotion, sharing and connection with viewers and other artists. She described her equipment as being “very basic” – a computer, video camera and phone. 

She described her process and its various aspects as follows: 

1) She always video-tapes rehearsals, starting with raw footage, which she then gives it to a professional for editing. 
2) She uses the internet and video for art promotion, sharing and connection. Her web-site is very “video intensive,” and she makes ample use of “You-Tube” and social networking sites. 
3) For “Performance Deli,” Rhonda and members from her troupe, “Alligator Mouth Five,” set up in front of a store. People made on-line “orders” for the dancers to improvise. These improvisations were then posted on ‘You Tube.” 
4) Rhonda and her crew records people staring silently at the camera for long periods of time. The photographs were then pieced together and projected onto a very large screen during performances as the dancers sang a blessing to the faces in a black theatre. Because of the success of this aspect of the performance, Rhonda and her dancers now take a moment to gaze silently into the audience before beginning their performance. This is called “inviting to be seen.” 
5) They use a looper whereby a musician plays to recorded music. 
6) They are now using an on-line application called “Kickstarter” to build on their web-site. People use “Kickstarter” to write books…and engage in “change the world projects.” It is a way to educate and connect with people. 
7) Rhonda is getting certified in FEBE on-line – FEBE is an acronym that stands for Focused Energy Balance Indicator. 
10) Rhonda can connect with people from all over the world through the internet and the telephone. \ 

Thus, Rhonda’s art is a rich, multi-layered combination of improvisational theatre, dance, song, music, and digital media. Technology enables Rhonda to reach many more people than she might otherwise have done so. To learn more about Rhonda Morton and her work in schools, see other posts on this blog as well as the following links. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqXQsnwurwU .

Maria Driscoll McMahon is an Arts in Education Program Specialist for GST BOCES.