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Making as Critical Interrogation

Simon Penny, UC Irvine

February 26, 2024
7:00 - 8:20 p.m.
Peterson Hall 108, UC San Diego

Simon Penny is an artist, theorist and teacher with a longstanding focus on emerging technologies and on embodied and situated aspects of artistic practice, working with the question of how to build systems that attend to bodily affect and embodied experience. He has built interactive installations and robotic art since the mid 1980s. He explores - in artistic and scholarly work and in technical research - problems encountered when computational technologies interface with cultural practices, and the ways in which making things can be a form of critical interrogation, an interest that is pursued more recently through a focus on "critical craft practice."

In this talk, Simon Penny will introduce some of his earlier work and speak about Orthogonal, an ongoing syncretic design project in critical making that seeks to deploy some of the unique qualities of traditional Micronesian ocean voyaging sailcraft design in a new kind of asymmetrical multihull vessel that leverages modern (and mostly sustainable) materials and methods to create a new synthesis that is a viable solution for pressing economic, social and environmental needs of island and coastal communities. Orthogonal is a transdisciplinary research project involving anthropology, hydrodynamics and aerodynamics, design prototyping, experimental structures and materials science, traditional and contemporary artisanal practices, sustainability and 'critical technical practice' (Agre). The Orthogonal project celebrates and learns from traditions of nonwestern sustainable science; endorses a holistic approach to design, and aspires to post-Anthropocene sustainability. Orthogonal was motivated by Penny's interest in Micronesian traditions in seafaring and naval architecture and his commitment to preserving, publicizing and reviving those traditions. The pragmatic goal of the project is to help (in a small way) to develop viable sustainable solutions to some of the existential challenges these communities face.

“Orthogonal thinking draws from a variety of, and perhaps seemingly unrelated, perspectives to achieve new insights”. From Orthogonal Thinking and Doing

Simon Penny is currently Professor in Electronic Art and Design at the Claire Trevor School of Art at the University of California, Irvine, with appointments in the dept of Music and in Informatics (School of Information and Computer Science). He founded UC Irvine's Arts Computation Engineering (ACE) graduate program. His longstanding concern with embodied and situated aspects of aesthetic experience, along with a critical analysis of computer culture are the focus of his book Making Sense: Cognition, Computing, Art and Embodiment (MIT press 2017). He was director of A Body of Knowledge: Embodied Cognition and the Arts conference UCI 2016, and An Ocean of Knowledge: Pacific Seafaring, Sustainability and Cultural Survival at UCI in 2017. He is also a visiting professor at Nottingham Trent University UK, 2021-24. He was Professor of Art and Robotics at Carnegie Mellon from 1993 to 2000 and was visiting professor in media theory, Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media masters, University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, 2006-2013 and Labex International Professor, University Paris8 and ENSAD in 2014.