Socially Engaged Art

Weeks 14 & 15: Social Collaging, Curating, and Image Remixing

One of my socially engaged art thought experiments from a few weeks ago was an inquiry into collaborative curating. What if museums and galleries, in addition presenting work on their white walls, invited visitors as participants to sequence and classify objects?

For my final project I built a prototype to explore this and quickly discovered several other applications for investigation.

A few notes on my process: knowing that I wanted to again use web sockets to create a shared space for creating, as I did in Social Drawing Sol LeWitt, I continued to use the P5 mode at While my social drawing tool employs line making, this project uses shapes and images: I wanted multiple people to drag objects around the screen at once. First, I had to learn how to work with an array of objects--I started with basic shapes and then added images, and next I learned how to encapsulate those images into a class of draggable items. Finally, ITP Resident Lisa Jamhoury pushed through with me to figure out how to broadcast changing image positions through web sockets. As we quickly saw, sometimes the simplest of ideas are not the easiest nor the quickest to execute. (Thank you, Lisa!)

Collaborative Collages
Because I started with basic shapes as I worked out the underlying functionality, I quickly realized that I could create a canvas for social collaging. Here's a snapshot of one of those early sketches, which you can also visit here. (In searching a different topic, I found a related project in a proposal for a Digital Stained Glass installation by Caitlin Pickall.)

Social Collaging  via OpenProcessing

Social Collaging via OpenProcessing

Picture Remixer
Which of course led me to the idea of remixing existing paintings altogether, such as with this abstract from Mondrian. Yes we could look and point and talk about how the artist created "paths across the canvas suggesting the city's grid, the movement of traffic, and blinking electric lights, as well as the rhythms of jazz (from MoMA)," but a remixing tool might ask us to look even closer and navigate these ideas by building our own version together

Mondrian, Piet.  Broadway Boogie Woogie . 1942-43. Museum of Modern Art, New York.  MoMA . Web. 12 Dec. 2017. .

Mondrian, Piet. Broadway Boogie Woogie. 1942-43. Museum of Modern Art, New York. MoMA. Web. 12 Dec. 2017.

And what would happen if this tool was extended to pictures with more visual complexity? This Bosch painting is densely packed with information. I imagine that surely we might get to know it  even better with a tool that asks us to look carefully as we manipulate and move its elements.

Hieronymus Bosch .  The Garden of Earthly Delights.  1500-1505.  Museo del Prado , Madrid.  Wikipedia.  Web. 12 Dec. 2017.

Hieronymus Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delights. 1500-1505. Museo del Prado, Madrid. Wikipedia. Web. 12 Dec. 2017.

Here's a sketch that combines the detail and compactness of the Bosch painting with my original social collage inspiration (probably because I saw this Garden of Earthly Delights by Carla Gannis this summer). The Emoji Wall 2500 contains approximately 2600 emoji artworks from EmojiOne. How do we communicate meaning through these pictorial words? Are those meanings shared? What happens when these meanings are constructed in a non-linear fashion and simultaneously? (Thanks to the ITP Residents for recommending another emoji project by recent ITP-grad, Rebecca Leopold.)

Social Collaging on the  Emoji Wall 2500  via OpenProcessing (approximately 20-30 secs or longer to load)

Social Collaging on the Emoji Wall 2500 via OpenProcessing (approximately 20-30 secs or longer to load)

Collaborative Curating
With the underlying functionality in pace, I now have a template with which to populate any set of images. My original inspiration grew from an inquiry into ways museums and galleries might open source their exhibits and provide visitors with opportunities to sequence artworks themselves. I'm very interested in meaning is derived from visual sources, especially photographs, which I consider to be a combination several factors : What is content of the image (the objects, lines, shapes, composition, colors, distortions)? What does that content signify (what ideas are expressed?) How do our eyes physically read this information (What do you look at first, second...last?) Finally, what is the context in which the image is situated (Is it on a wall? A social media site? Are you holding it in book? Is it surrounded by other images)? Context and sequencing especially lends itself to establishing some type of perceived narrative and understanding. 

For this last example, I visited a current exhibit in the city: the Stephen Shore retrospective at MoMA, which includes a presentation of Uncommon Places, his series of color pictures of the American vernacular landscape. There I saw an edit of the series that differs from the original book and also the photographer's personal website. Why the different edits and sequences? Looking closer I found that the photographs at the museum appeared in neither geographical nor chronological order, so there must be other relationships/meanings between the images at play in determining their locations. The sketch below contains 30 of the 40 images currently on display at MoMA and now available to reorder according to our own conversations and decisions:

Some Conclusions
Though this tool is not that different from my collaborative drawing canvas, participants can now investigate together many more questions with entire images or image segments at their fingertips. Questions related to how and what we see and also how meaning and stories are created within compositions and between them. If anything, perhaps the activity of sequencing together would make for a useful teaching tool in the art history or photography classroom. Ideally participants could upload their own images for any given context--educational, artistic, etc.

While this is good first attempt to create a tool for collaborative image interaction, there are some bugs to work out. Currently if shapes or objects overlap, the mouse cursor picks up the objects in the background layer first, as opposed to the topmost layer. And of course, especially when working with images, I also need to learn how to load them faster and/or provide a loading animation while the participants wait. Finally, every time you refresh the page, the objects always display in the same starting points; I would prefer for any updated image locations to save for the next visitor to consider what just occurred (and why) and then continue the iteration process. 

Stephen Shore Image Citations
This image was accessed via Stephen Shore’s website here on 12 Dec 2017:
Ginger Shore, Miami, Florida, November 12, 1977

These images were accessed via the Museum of Modern Art here on 12 Dec 2017:
Alley off Sunset Strip, Hollywood, California, June 22, 1975
Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1975
El Paso Street, El Paso, Texas, July 5, 1975
Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974
Lincoln Street and Riverside Street, Spokane, Washington, August 25, 1974
Lookout Hotel, Ogunquit, Maine, July 16, 1974
Michael and Sandy Marsh, Amarillo, Texas, September 27, 1974
U.S. 10, Post Falls, Idaho, August 25, 1974
10 - U.S. 93, Kingman, Arizona, July 2, 1975
U.S. 93, Wikieup, Arizona, December 14, 1976
U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973
West 9th Avenue, Amarillo, Texas, October 2, 1974

These images were accessed via 303 Gallery here on 13 Dec 2017:
11th Street, St. Louis, Missouri, May 12, 1974
Badlands National Monument, South Dakota, July 14, 1973
Bellevue, Alberta, August 21, 1974
Church and Second Streets, Easton, Pennsylvania, June 20, 1974
Cumberland Street, Charleston, South Carolina, August 3, 1975
Elizabeth Street, Harrisonburg, Virginia, April 28, 1974
Grayson, Kentucky, May 1, 1974
Hoff Avenue, Tucson, Arizona, December 6, 1976
Meeting Street, Charleston, South Carolina, August 3, 1975
Palm Beach, Florida, November 8, 1977
Presidio, Texas, February 21, 1975
Robert and Lucille Wehrly, Coos Bay, Oregon, August 13, 1974
Room 115, Holiday Inn, Belle Glade, Florida, November 14, 1977
Second Street, East and South Main Street, Kalispell, Montana, August 22, 1974
Trail’s End Restaurant, Kanab, Utah, August 10, 1973
U.S. 27, Palmdale, Florida, November 15, 1977
U.S. 33, Fort Seybert, West Virginia, April 29, 1974

Updated Canvases from Class

Week 13: Proposal for Neighborhood Surveillance Portraits

Cameras begin to create a need for themselves, and they will never be removed.
— Bill Brown, Surveillance Camera Players

A proposal for a real-world socially engaged art project.

A couple of weeks ago visiting guest artist, Joseph Moore, discussed a body of work sourced from the live feeds of unsecured web cameras. When he mentioned a site of such feeds at, I immediately hopped on to peruse those labeled New York City. Many of the cameras peer out onto the sidewalks from doorways, seemingly unbeknownst to passersby. I didn't know what to expect, but I felt as if I had stumbled into someone else's secret. Who else was watching and why?

I remembered the long-running project of The Traveller, who has toured the world the past 16 years photographing himself through cameras with Internet-accessible feeds, always in the same attire with the same pose so that he's easily recognizable in every shot. He asks even more questions: 

"Who sets up these automated cameras, and why? What do they show? Are people aware of them? Who looks at their images? Does someone need these images? Does the presence of a camera alter a site? What constitutes a photographic image in terms of authorship or quality? The Traveller project examines borders of private and public grounds, global spread of imagery between irrelevance, information and surveillance, and the aesthetics involved." 

This planted the seed for a "real-world" socially engaged art project to organize and gather folks with ties to a particular neighborhood for a series of group webcam portraits and conversation about surveillance in their local community.

But first, how to find these cameras online? It was readily evident to this long-time resident that many of the cameras on insecam were not NYC-based, and those that were listed falsified or removed their specific locations. Depending on the surrounding signage, as in this case however, that would be easy to solve. This would only be applicable to this project if enough unsecured cameras in the same neighborhood were identified. EarthCam posts links to several touristy locations (with sound!), but they are spread around town. Artist James Bridle's #Rorschcam takes advantage of the many more NYC's Department of Transportation cameras.

I decided that while a group shot via webcam is a nice payoff, perhaps it isn't necessarily the point. Perhaps a better place to start is by asking and attempting to answer the following questions together: Are there cameras in my neighborhood and where are they? Are they for public or private use? Does that engender different responses? (Think security or privacy infringement--ah, the privacy paradox on our streets!) What happens when private cameras are pointed into public spaces? If cameras are secured, we could emulate the surveillance shots and take a group selfies from the points of view of the cameras, then posting online to share camera locations with the rest of the community. 

Since I spend most of my time on or near NYU's Washington Square campus these days, a quick search of "surveillance cameras around nyu" immediately served up to my delight up the surveillance mapping records of the New York Surveillance Camera Players at


Parts theater troupe and anti-surveillance activists (here's a brief trailer for an unmade documentary and some performance recordings), their last map of the NYU neighborhood in 2004, counted 510 cameras of which they identified 500 as private surveillance cameras. (All of their neighborhood maps are listed here.)

Thanks to SCP, I found links to the now defunct NYC Surveillance Camera Project, an initiative of the New York Civil Liberties Union to map all of Manhattan's cameras, or at least the ones that volunteers could see: "Whether tucked surreptitiously out of the line of vision or small enough to escape detection, we believe many more cameras currently watch our city streets than appear on the map. And numerous others are continually being installed...Our modern panopticon is making prisoners of us all, as we are constantly under the gaze of the camera." Last updated in 2006, they listed 173 cameras in Manhattan's Community Board 2, which includes NYU. A 2011 New York Daily News article mentions that the NYCLU ended the project after realizing that there were just too many to map, with 8,000 cameras counted between 14th Street and the southern tip of island alone.

Another lucky find, the reporter for that Daily News article chronicled his own casual neighborhood surveillance camera tour, and he lives right near the NYU Tisch building:

"...on Washington Place between Mercer St. and Broadway, there are two surveillance cameras outside two adjacent nondescript doors. After I cross to the east side of Broadway, I walk in view of two cameras perched outside the NYU Bookstore at 726 Broadway. About 40 feet north, there are two more cameras outside 730 Broadway, an NYU building housing the student health center. Two additional cameras hang outside the building's second entrance about 30 feet away....On a typical week, I stop by a nearby Bank of America ATM at least twice. A surveillance camera captures me walking inside. After that brief stop, I cross to the west side of Broadway and almost immediately walk into view of two cameras outside the Cozy diner."

Well, now I'm super curious. That was seven years ago. What's the current state, and why don't I think about it? Am I so distracted by the steady stream of images fed to me by my phone that I've forgotten to look up and realize that my own image is being pumped into multiple image conveyor belts to who knows where? Clearly the area is due for an update. Fortunately, the SCP also posts a surveillance camera map-making guide to help anyone get started. 


(Of note: I found NYU's Annual Security and Fire Safety Reports for it's New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai campuses online. The Shanghai report includes a specific section on it's video surveillance program, which includes facial recognition technology and that "all of the video surveillance cameras at NYU Shanghai report back to the Control Rooms of the Academic Building and the Residence Hall, providing direct feeds around the clock to the certified security officers. Recorded images are maintained for 30 days, in accordance with local regulation." Regarding general security and access to facilities in Abu Dhabi, there are "external and internal
monitoring via video surveillance cameras in a number of locations, which is monitored in a 24/7 Control Room." Similarly, for its NYC buildings, there are "video surveillance systems
in various outdoor and indoor locations, including residence hall lobbies," but I see no mention of a control room.)

A meetup with neighborhood members to map surveillance cameras on their blocks and converse about their responses to and the implications of video collection in public and private areas. Participants will photograph cameras with embedded location data with their cell phones and group surveillance portraits emulated via selfies to acknowledge and share ownership, if only for a split second, of the gaze of the unseen and unidentified viewers on the other side of the cameras.

Participants will develop an awareness of surveillance cameras in their immediate neighborhood.
Participants will dialogue about ideas of public vs. private, senses of safety vs. privacy, and the role of imagery to support or deny those agendas.
Participants will post camera locations and portraits to a wider audience via online social platforms.

Meet at a neighborhood school, library, or coffee shop (20-30 minutes): Ask participants to share their definitions of public and private spaces and any experiences with installed cameras in those areas. Have installed cameras helped participants to feel safe or encroached on their privacy? Share research above, ask for expectations of the activity's outcomes and discuss any hesitations.

Provide recommendations, adapted from the SCP guide:

  1. Familiarize the group with various types of cameras.
  2. Consider a system by which to categorize cameras, either by the camera's rotational ability or presumed ownership.
  3. Looking for cameras: Go slow. Be patient, but don't linger. Do one side of the street at time. Look for cameras a eye-level and also perched on the second-floor. Make sure to look at and underneath canopies, doorways, as well as above entrances. At intersections, look up at traffic lights, poles, and lamps.
  4. Mutually agree upon a social platform and hashtag to share camera locations and portraits.

Commence the neighborhood (or block) surveillance scan itself (30-40 minutes): Photograph cameras with enough surrounding visual information so as to easily discern their location and context. Embedding location metadata will also help. Also take a group selfie from the point of view of the camera. Post images.

Return to neighborhood meeting spot and debrief (20-30 minutes):
What did we find? How does it compare with our expectations? 
Have our definitions of public and privates spaces changed?
What about feelings of personal security and privacy?
What new questions do we have? (i.e. Would you support surveillance regulation? The NYCLU project supported legislation that would limit the duration of recordings, the amount of time footage is retained, the registration of cameras, as well as the notification to passersby that they are under surveillance.)

Additional Resources
Two recent 2017 reports on New York videotaping laws:
New York State Laws on Videotaping
Backyard Surveillance Bill

And from ITP alumnus, Ross Goodwin, The Sentient Surveillance Camera

Week 11: An Online Public Space for Social Drawing

Visit Social Drawing Sol LeWitt @

My understanding of socially engaged art evolves every week through our assigned readings and class discussions. Since my ideas from last week speak to explorations of the collaborative process, this passage from Shannon Jackson's Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics, resonated strongly:

"Whereas for many the word 'social' signifies an interest in explicit forms of political change, for other contemporary artists it refers more autonomously to the aesthetic exploration of time, collectivity, and embodiment as medium and materials....While some social art practice seeks to innovate around the concept of collaboration, others seeks to ironize it. While some social practices seeks to forge social bonds, many others define their artistic radicality by the degree to which they disrupt the social."

Our assignment this week was to create a public space on the internet. I prototyped one of my ideas from last week: a shared canvas for collaborative drawing. I set my goal create a public online page to which multiple people might connect and draw together from randomly generated prompts. To focus the activity, I adapted the prompts from Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawing Instructions.

I heard somewhere on the ITP floor that this might be possible with a communication protocol called web sockets. I found Dan Shiffman's tutorials on the topic, which to my surprise culminated in creating a sketch with a shared drawing canvas--perfect. However, setting up a shared space to for multiple users connect requires programming a server, and the tutorials' example just covered local node server setup and a P5 sketch that only ran on my computer in multiple browser windows. Though it just worked on my machine, I learned about the underlying principles, and it was a great way to start.  

But how to implement this for multiple users on different machines, possibly in different rooms or countries? Fortunately, I had the great luck of stumbling across an article by Sinan Ascioglu called, "Creating collaborative sketches with web sockets on," I couldn't believe it! According to Ascioglu, another P5.js web editor, OpenProcessing, was the answer:

"When creating web sockets manually, the hardest part is to create a socket server that listens to any clients connecting and decide what to do with those messages. This requires relatively heavy terminal action to install a node server on your computer and write the code that defines the actions of the server. The good news is: OpenProcessing covers you on this part! Every sketch has a socket server set up already, which echoes (broadcasts) every message to all the other users who are viewing the same sketch at the same time."

Ascioglu's article linked to a couple of example sketches (here and here), which provided useful starting points. For my version called, Social Drawing Sol LeWitt, I added a button to generate and broadcast randomized drawing instructions onto all connected screens, as well as one to clear the current drawings for all users. The sketch probably works best for folks sharing a room (physical or chat) or a telephone call; at present, there is no indication that collaborators have "joined" the page. A color picker or eraser might be nice, too. (Thanks to ITP Resident, Aarón Montoya-Moraga, for his help in programming a more elegant display for the drawing instructions!)

OpenProcessing, based on the open source programming language, Processing, is free to use and all sketches are automatically public unless you upgrade your account to a premium membership. Is my sketch actually a public space, though? According to Shiffman, OpenProcessing was created to easily share sketches made in the desktop app, Processing, and all OpenProcessing sketches are immediately published with a Creative Commons license. In the spirit of the greater Processing community, OpenProcessing is yet another wonderful place to learn and share from one another. Because of the welcoming context of the Processing community in which this site originated, it feels like a public park, but in reality it might be closer to privately-owned public space. There are Terms of Service to which I must abide, and if I don't then "...Sinan Ascioglu has the right (though not the obligation) to, in Sinan Ascioglu’s sole discretion (i) refuse or remove any content that, in Sinan Ascioglu’s reasonable opinion, is in any way harmful or objectionable, or (ii) terminate or deny access to and use of the Website to any individual or entity for any reason, in Sinan Ascioglu’s sole discretion." In addition, "Sinan Ascioglu may terminate your access to all or any part of the Website at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, effective immediately." So yes, I would argue that my sketch is a public space but on a private site maintained by Ascioglu. 

IMG_7799 copy.JPG

Update! Perhaps drawing prompts are overrated; my classmates seemed to enjoy themselves just fine despite the posted the instructions. :)

Related Work
Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing #118 at Dia Art
Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective at MASS MoCA
A plethora of social, shared drawing spaces online, including Aggie.ioAnonDraw, FlockDraw, copainter, drawsome, and Pixelart to name a few
Google's AI Experiment: Quick Draw (try it!)*
Reddit's 2017 April Fools' Day Experiment (timelapse)*
Surrealists’ Exquisite Corpse (and it’s drawing variation, Picture Consequences)*
Oblique Strategies*
*thanks to my fellow peers for these tips!

Creating collaborative sketches with web sockets on by Sinan Ascioglu
Web Sockets and P5.js Tutorial by Dan Shiffman

"Design, Activism, and Social Change Workshop" by Gulizar Cepoglu
Preface to A People’s Art History of the United States by Nicolas Lampert
Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics by Shannon Jackson (Chapter 1)