This is the first in a series of three posts on the digital exhibitions I worked on this spring. You can jump ahead to part two. Part three is up, too.
Or at least that’s the way it felt for me this spring. For one reason or another, my large projects this term ended up being three different forms of gallery and library exhibits, each filled with undergraduate scholarship. I’ll discuss each in turn, just because they were each interesting enough that they deserve proper space for consideration.
One that I knew coming into the term I would have was the second instance of something I first worked on in the spring of 2012. Professor Laura Wexler (American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) is deeply interested in photography and its role in our lives. In particular, she has run since 1999 the Photographic Memory Workshop at Yale and offers a seminar titled “Photography and Memory”. You can read my writeup of last year’s project, but one thing that I neglected to note then was just how excited we were about this: To our knowledge this way of getting student scholarship into the YUAG was entirely novel and this level of public exposure of undergraduate research is rare. Not all the students last year were undergraduates, and possibly even most were not, but even for graduate students at Yale, short-form scholarship for a general audience is uncommon.
Somewhat predictably, this year’s edition was easier in many ways, but because I knew that was likely, I decided to bring things up a bit where I could. Where I noted in last year’s writeup that “This kiosk came together in a flurry of effort and coordination,” I conveniently omitted that the recordings were done very much in a duct-tape-and-gum manner. The recordings were done in a spare room in our offices, in our conference room, and in a spare office at Photo + Design. In each case, I used Audacity, a half-decent microphone we have, and was the sole engineer and producer. There’s a fog of perfection at Yale that makes doing things this way feel illicit, which is of course one of the attractions. But I also didn’t want to bias gallery visitors against the installation just because it wasn’t professionally recorded. Consequently, I skipped all mention of that.
This year, the recording process was also how I wanted to focus on ratcheting up the assignment from our perspective. Surely, Yale of all places has a push-button high-quality recording studio for student work? Alas, no. Some of the residential colleges have studios, and good ones, but they are limited to students in those colleges. Doubtlessly, we could have gotten around that requirement, but I’ve been there and would not have wanted a fellow student using up my college’s resources on the down low. Naturally, the School of Music and the Music Department have their own studios, but there again, they are reserved for students in those units. Enter the Yale Broadcast & Media Center studios. All signs pointed to them as the best place to get this done. The one catch, which wasn’t one, was that the work we were doing there needed to be disseminated in some way, and since we were doing audio work, we needed to make a podcast out of it. I can’t call that a catch, because being pushed to make our work more public is a Good Thing.
This brings me to the major difference from the course side this year, which was that the assignment was baked into the syllabus. Last spring, the assignment was added after the start of the course, and possibly even after registration, which very much threw the students. We can look on the students’ reaction more or less charitably, but possibly the most nearly neutral way to see it is that Yale students are very busy, and bristle when they encounter academic surprises. I mention this change at this point in my recap because I believe it is half of why the recording sessions went so smoothly this year. The other half is that we had a proper studio and a proper engineer in Phil Kearney from Broadcast & Media, and the students knew they needed to perform. (It didn’t hurt that more than one student had some experience with Yale’s student radio outfit, but most did not.) Consequently, most students got their reading done — and done well — in one take. The downside of that was that we spent far too much of the 30-minute slots I had allotted (based on last year’s efforts) with time on our hands. I couldn’t have asked for a better engineer, though, than Phil, as it wasn’t until we had gotten most of the way through the student sessions, with only one reschedule, that he said, “You know, we could just schedule them 5 or 6 at a time and just have the next one go when the previous one is finished.”
So I thank Phil for his skill and his patience, Professor Wexler for doing this assignment again, Davids Odo and Whaples from the YUAG for their work on the image and coordination side, and Thomas Raich of YUAG for going above and beyond in getting this kiosk up and running when driver and OS issues exploded 10 minutes before I was due on a train to Washington, D.C. I look forward to next year and how we can continue to integrate student digital scholarship with cultural institutions on campus.
The exhibit is still up in the (gorgeously new) Study Gallery at the YUAG, so if you can, do head over and see it. Neither YUAG IT nor I (nor Professor Wexler) are thrilled with some sloppiness of the touchscreen we needed to use this year, last year’s being already allocated for other needs. But if you do go and find the cursor unresponsive, just touch far away from your target and then try again. We’ve found that tends to be better than repeatedly trying to move the cursor by small increments.