Vladivostok leads the way with its Digital Art Master’s program

Interview with the team behind Russia’s first practice-oriented program in Digital Art

With the rapid development of the Internet, new media environment undoubtedly became more sophisticated. Digital art is a significant area of the modern creative industry. It uses up-to-date instruments in creating virtual arts. Technical advantages like new design software and virtual tools help to put the works of art beyond any traditional visual definition and expectation.

Thanks to all these recent tendencies digital art has become the focus of diverse art schools and universities. Creation of art nowadays is no longer subject of geographical constraints.

Master’s Program in “Digital Art” (DA) at the FEFU forms part of the Data Economy School and is a pioneer in creating educational schemes aimed at shaping the next generation of media artists, interactive media designers, virtual space architects, curators, managers of cultural institutions, exhibition space designers and digital marketers. It shapes the next world shapers in order to ensure the sustainability of a profession that evolves continuously through the blend of art and tech.

We talked to the team behind Russia’s first practice-oriented program in Digital Art to discuss a newly coined term digitocene and the need to reform our vocabularies even further.

Could you tell us a bit about the launch of the MA Digital Art program in Vladivostok? What is the program’s manifesto?
DA is a master’s program which works at the intersection of science and art, creating specialists of a new level and opening disciplines of a new direction. It is focused on the establishment of an international and local community of people who are interested in a new type of media technologies and spheres of their implementations for the art, design, and architecture. The theoretical base of the program studies how advanced technologies change the way we live and interact with both spaces outside ourselves and with each other.

DA is also a research project about the development of technological art in the modern world, the search for its authentic aesthetics and the development of its fields of application. Introducing the concept of digitocene we argue that the digital and physical worlds are so closely intertwined that this fact cannot be ignored, since it radically changes the paradigms of modern society, the rhythms of urban life and the course of biological processes, and also augments the understanding of the human body and its abilities.

The full name of the program is MA Digital Art: Digitocene. How could you define the Digitocene?
Digitocene is an accelerated reaction to an ontological crisis of positivism in the informational age. Digital now is so integrated into analog, that it cannot be considered as a phenomenon by itself. Digitocene addresses the humanization of digital technologies through interplay and interaction between digital, biological, cultural, cyberspace and real space, between embodied media and mixed reality in social and physical communication, between visual, haptic, auditory, and kinesthetic experiences.

We live in a world where borders of our bodies, augmented through the digital instruments and gadgets, are expanded through the servers in the data centers and teleports through the VPN. The ways of interaction between space and its users are changing, modifying technics of its perception. Hybrid spaces transform an established understanding of freedom and accessibility, as well as lead to new ways of interaction not only with digital and physical reality but also in between us. In art, architectural and design practices we no longer design space and objects, but experiences. Aesthetics and its perception. Engineers are proposing methods and instruments for emerging reality, however, within this framework, an aesthetic position needs to be developed. Art, with its strong disciplinary position, is also a mediator between engineering and aesthetic ideas. Translating algorithms into art, we can achieve a wider understanding not only of technologies and ethics of its implementation but also to develop new forms of integration of these technologies into the urban environment and society. This leads to the understanding of art not on the age of different disciplines, but to the understanding of art which develops an interdisciplinary method of information coding, which is accessible for an understanding of each social unit outside of the frameworks of established professions and art practices.

Social factors and digital comfort. Today social and psychophysical aspects are changing. New interaction and behavior patterns, as well as logics of choice, are emerging. Comfort is no longer understood as coziness, convenience, and physical security. Comfort is a possibility to communicate in verbal and digital forms, the possibility to analyze and change information around us, it is a freedom of communication and open regulation of relations. It is not only a physical but also a virtual security.

What are the structure and the main themes of the research?
DA proposes a modular training in a two-week intensive format. Each intensive is held by a new teacher. The main target of every two-week course is to form students’ new unique skills and new visions, which often comes through collaboration with other students. After every course, there is a public presentation where students present the results of their two weeks’ work.

Do you perceive digital art as an art form in itself or as a medium that can be used by any art form?
If you remove the word art and look only at “digital” you will see that it just means some form of communication. So digital art uses new forms of digitized communication to talk with its observers. In this case, any form of art can become digital if this type of communication is added. This already happened with various forms of modern art after the arrival of the internet. This is also a reason why we decided to focus on the art of digitocene instead of the broader digital art definition.

Why is the DA program located in Vladivostok? What is the policy behind the geography of this project?
DA creates a community of creative people from the fields of art and technology located in different parts of Russia and the world, combining their knowledge in Vladivostok. Bringing multi-disciplinary teachers from all over the world we want to crystallize common experience in this part of the world, create a new international cultural center, and also reveal the potential of our students, because they will dictate new criteria, directions, and trends of arts and science. We believe in decentralization as a positive phenomenon. While Moscow is an economic, cultural and educational center of Russia, Vladivostok can become another node for cultural development. Furthermore, located in the far East and surrounded by four Asian countries, it has the potential of accumulating and transforming Asian influence into the new forms of artistic expression.

DA works with the ecosystem of Vladivostok, critically evaluating its urban environment and offering alternative solutions to urban problems, activates its creative points — collaborates with theater and exhibition venues, as well as constantly offering several educational and cultural events open to the city.

Who are the mentors of the program? Do you have a board of international experts?
The program director — Ekaterina Belyaeva is local, and always located in Vladivostok. She is known in Vladivostok as a curator of the Pusk art festival. The educational part of the program is curated by three people: architect Maria Kuptsova, designer and expert in data visualization Eduard Haiman and software engineer Vadim Smakhtin.

What are the backgrounds of the applicants and which specialists graduate from the DA program?
The program is designed for graduates of Russian and foreign universities and professionals in design, architecture or the field of visual arts. The direction is also suitable for programmers, engineers or specialists with a technical education who wish to improve their skills and learn how to work with new technologies. The program produces interactive media designers, virtual space architects, curators and managers of cultural institutions, exhibition space designers, digital marketers and media artists of course.

Which kinds of digital mobility realities are being researched by the students? Mixed, online, offline, augmented, interactive, pervasive, virtual, real-time?
Our students did multiple works in fields like virtual reality, interactive installations, and many others. We are actively exploring new mediums that are available. However, our goal is not to use the medium as an art form, instead, as modern artists, we are trying to find problems in each medium. For example, we are researching fields like artificial intelligence acceptance or machine learning aesthetics. These fields are relatively new not only for artistic practices but to the field in general.

Do you collaborate with any international institutions: residencies, festivals, networks, conferences?
Of course. Our students have participated in many international festivals and awards, including Mutek Japan, Ural Biennale, Art of Neuroscience and Japan Media Arts Festival.

Learn more and enroll: https://dataeconomyschool.com/digitalart

Also published on Medium.

Daria Kravchuk
Daria Kravchuk
is a curator and art manager with an MA in Museology from Amsterdam University. Her international projects are focused on the intersection of contemporary art, architecture, urban planning and anthropology. You can connect with her via LinkedIn.