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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Panel Discussion Introduces WAC’s New Media Lab

Panel Discussion Introduces WAC’s New Media Lab
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – As a lead-up to the opening of its New Media Lab in an auxiliary space at 42 Main Street, Westport Arts Center hosted a panel discussion Thursday evening in its Riverside Avenue gallery. Titled “Play Time / Games and the Theories of Play”, it pulled together new media specialists, scholars and artists to share views on the rapidly evolving new media landscape. The discussion complements the Center’s current “Toy Stories” exhibit, which features mixed media interpretations of toys and games.

“We’re venturing to capture an audience that we think can only grow,” said WAC’s Executive Director Peter Van Heerden. “New media is a very relevant phenomenon, and it’s changing every day. It’s time to get on the train and see where it goes.”

The evening’s moderator was Carolyn McKenzie, a Boston-based artist and filmmaker. “We’re framing this idea of playtime as a potential space for critical thinking and creative expression,” she said. “Many people think we’re not engaging ourselves productively when we play video games, however, many artists and technologists are doing some interesting things in this space.”

The panel featured three presenters – Steve Lambert, Michael Middleman and Renee Plato Van Heerden.

A conceptual artist and Text & Images Arts faculty member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Lambert’s concentration was on play as a strategy for otherwise having challenging conversations about such subjects as social issues.

“An example of this focus is a sign at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massuchusetts,” he said. “It reads ‘Capitalism Works For Me’, with a true/false voting mechanism that keeps a tally.”

Middleman, a software developer and publisher of Aspect, a DVD periodical of contemporary art, spotlighted emergence as an art form. “Emergence is when we set up a series of simple rules and something more interesting or complicated happens,” he said. “There are two kinds of emergence: incidental and unintentional. An example of incidental would be Backgammon. A good illustration of unintentional is the rocket jump in video games. Players discovered that if they pointed the rocket down, it would allow them to jump higher – not an intended action by the developers.”

Van Heerden, Vice President of Digital Distribution for Disney/ESPN Media Networks, zeroed in on digital and online gaming – the business and distribution of it. “Online gaming attracted young male users in the past; now it’s attracting families, driven by Twitter, xBox, Wii and tablets,” she said. “Access drives awareness, which drives audiences, which drives usage then revenue. Revenue is way north of $10 billion annually in online gaming. ‘Call of Duty’ alone generated $2 billion and 1.2 billion hours of gameplay in 2011.”

In addition to the panelists, New Media Lab faculty members Michael Elsden, Bridget Dalen and Evan Neidich were on hand for attendees to meet. The three will lead camp sessions this summer. Elsden, a Westport photographer, heads a photography class July 30 – August 3. Neidich leads an animation session August 6 – 10. Dalen, from Fairfield University’s media department, will teach a film-video art class August 13-17.

For more information about New Media Lab programming, visit or call 203-222-7070.

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