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Welcome to ART COM, an online magazine forum dedicated to the
interface of contemporary art and new communication technologies.

You are invited to send information for possible inclusion. We
are especially interested in options that can be acted upon:
including conferences, exhibitions, and publications. Proposals
for guest edited issues are also encouraged. Send submissions to:

[email protected]

Back issues of ART COM can be accessed on the Art Com
Electronic Network (ACEN) on the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link
(WELL), available through the CompuServe Packet Network
and PC Pursuit.

To access the Art Com Electronic Network on the WELL,
enter g acen at the Ok: prompt. The Art Com Electronic
Network is also accessible on USENET as alt.artcom.
For access information, send email to: [email protected]

*Guest Editors: Lisa Link and Carolyn P. Speranza
*Editor: Carl Eugene Loeffler
*Systems: Fred Truck and Gil MinaMora

Lisa Link is an electronic media artist addressing pressing
contemporary and historic political issues. She is currently an
artist in residence in computer imaging at the Manchester Craftsmen's

Carolyn Speranza is a multimedia installation artist. She
currently teaches computer imaging as an Artist/Lecturer at Carnegie

Both artists reside in Pittsburgh, Pa and are eager to begin
another collaborative public artwork. They can be reached at
[email protected]

ART COM projects include:

ART COM MAGAZINE, an electronic forum dedicated to
contemporary art and new communication technologies.

network dedicated to contemporary art, featuring publications,
online art galleries, art information database, and bulletin boards.

ART COM SOFTWARE, international distributors of interactive
video and computer art.

ART COM TELEVISION, international distributors of innovative
video to broadcast television and cultural presenters.

CONTEMPORARY ARTS PRESS, publishers and distributors of
books on contemporary art, specializing in postmodernism, video,
computer and performance art.

ART COM, P.O.B. 193123 Rincon,San Francisco,CA,94119-
WELL E-MAIL: [email protected]
TEL: 415.431.7524 FAX: 415.431.7841

A Public Computer Image in Pittsburgh: Literacy Windows

by Lisa Link and Carolyn P. Speranza
[[email protected]]

On September 9, 1993, a new public art work appeared in
Pittsburgh amidst a gala reception complete with television
cameras, teenagers, educators, sponsors and artists. It is a 20 x
30 foot color, digital photomontage entitled "Literacy Windows," and
graces the west wall of the Heinz Plant on Pittsburgh's historic
"Northside." The diversity of the attendees at this opening reflected
the variety of people from the community who contributed to the
mural's creation. As the two artists in charge of the mural's design,
we feel it important to share this exciting process of community
collaboration and how it shaped our determination to make high
tech art more accessible and understandable to everyone.

In the Fall of 1992, The Times Project, a non-profit arts organization
dedicated to urban revitalization through the arts selected us for
their 1993 mural. We had never met prior to this public art
commission and were happy to discover how well we worked
together. We have a strong common bond in our passion for the
computer as an artistic tool and a commitment to sharing our art
and working process with a broad audience. The Times Project's
director, Janine Stern, expressed enthusiasm for exploring
techniques outside traditional mural painting and involving
community members in the project. She arranged for us to work
with five inner-city high school students and meet weekly at the
Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, a non-profit arts educational
program for urban youth.

The Times Project asked us to address the theme of "literacy" for
the 1993 mural. This often ignored issue is one of increasing
importance. The United States Department of Education reports
that nearly half of our nation's 191 million adults can barely read
and write. Before we began our design, we conducted research on
literacy including site visits to literacy programs in Pittsburgh.
People we met spoke of the practical obstacle that illiteracy posed:
not being able to read maps or street signs, not finishing school,
and not being able to fill out job applications. We were
overwhelmed with the emotional issues that illiteracy raised on a
personal level. Adults in these programs described the pain of not
being able to read to their children. They also recounted the
incredible joy of finally being able to read, especially the pleasure of
reading poetry or the Bible. A teenager with a reading disability
visited one of our weekly sessions. She gave our student
assistants a direct and stirring account of trying to appear normal in
high school while struggling with significant literacy obstacles.

All seven of us gained insight from these early research activities.
Daniel Yaeger commented that "Before it was just something you
knew about, but you didn't know the extent of the problem, because
politicians never bring it up." George Kanakis observed that " I
knew illiteracy existed but I never really thought much about it until I
started working on this project.(at the Carnegie Mellon Hunt Library)
I found a lot of books which said 1 in 5 or in 4 Americans are
functionally illiterate. Literacy means being able to read and write
and use a computer and all sorts of things most people just take for

Our creative challenge was daunting: to design a large public image
that addressed literacy without being an advertisement or overly
sentimental. Each student contributed artistically to the design, but
as the senior artists, our visions guided the direction of the piece.
We conducted brainstorming design sessions where we all
sketched and collaged images cut out from magazines. We taught
the students black and white photography: shooting, film
development and printing as well as how to scan and manipulate
the photographs in the computer. Our collaborative design evolved
into a series of four pairs of hands holding open gigantic books,
each with its own design inside. Under the looming books, figures
dance in celebration of reading and struggle with the problems of
illiteracy. The solid brick backdrop references our urban setting.

We used a mentor system with the students to help them develop
their ideas for the interiors of the books. While it is difficult to say
where one person's idea ended and another's began, the students
can point to individual contributions. Hajara Bey created a collage
that inspired the mural's design: she placed a figure flying in the air
under a book held by mysterious hands. Emily Lambert focused on
the third book with its key and feather images. She explained:
"The idea of a key is that reading is a key, it is something that
enables you to understand the world around yourself, everything,
and without that you're really lost...I had been thinking a lot about
flight and reading .. flight of the imagination, flight of your mind into
new things, new passageways that being able to read brings you."
Heba Ali talked about her choice of the sky and planets to
symbolize the vastness of knowledge in the fourth book. "There's
no end to knowledge, no matter how much you know, you're always
going to find out that you still don't know everything.... so it's
endless and it just keeps going and going.. how far can you go into
the sky?"

In today's mass media information world, reading and writing aren't
even enough. Technology is one aspect of literacy that we felt the
design should reference. Therefore, we depicted a
communications technology spiral in the first book. A cross section
of a shell contains a spiral of items that begins with the Gutenberg
A, and continues out into letters, books, magazines, televisions,
computers and circuit boards.

One of our goals for the project was to demystify computer
technology for our student collaborators and other participants. At
our first meetings, it was apparent that the students had not
considered computers to be viable creative tools. During the
mural's final stages, however, Daniel voiced his changing attitude:
"The project showed me that there are many different forms of art.
Usually when you think of art, you think of someone sitting down
with a paintbrush, pencil or clay. But today you have technology.
You can have art with computer graphics and now they're coming
out with Virtual Reality, so they'll probably have some art forms with
it. Plus with audio cassettes, you can have musical art in that form.
.. . Perhaps we can combine everything together in one huge


Producing the mural presented logistical, technological and
aesthetic challenges. The nature of the project assumed multiple
work sites, collaborative teamwork, cooperation with The Times
Project Committee and community members, and teaching the
students new skills in photography and computer imaging. Our
production process began with the students' preliminary designs-
drawings and collages of appropriated images. Using photo-
imaging software, we designed variations first in low resolution,
black and white, and then in color. We submitted several design
options to our committee of artists, educators, museum curators
and business leaders. The committee approved one design,
"Literacy Windows," which we recreated as a high resolution
graphic. We replaced appropriated images with original
photographs made on group shoots. The books' pages were
revised and the overall design improved in many subtle ways.

Insufficient computer memory plagued us throughout the design
process. To conserve memory, we divided the image onto several
disks. The students simultaneously worked on separate areas, and
we joined them together on a Quadra during our visit to the
STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon. In full color, the
image filled a 40 meg Syquest cartridge. Filmet, Inc. of Pittsburgh
recorded the design onto film. In California, Metromedia
Technologies scanned the resulting color transparency into their
computer system. We inspected Metromedia's proof, requested
adjustments and approved the image for printing onto weatherproof
vinyl. At Metromedia's Ohio plant, the vinyl was stretched over a
large, spinning drum. Their printer, like a desk top ink jet, spurted
dots of paint at precise intervals onto the rotating vinyl. The mural
arrived at a grommet company in Pittsburgh rolled up in a tube. A
Pittsburgh sign company bolted a wooden frame to the Heinz
factory wall and hung the mural, stretching it like a canvas over the
frame. The mural is portable. Unlike traditionally painted murals, it
can be rolled up and re-hung.

The mural was warmly received with these reactions:

"I was really surprised about how well it turned out. I like the piece
because it has all kinds of ethnic races. It's not just one race and it
is also a project that would demand deep thoughts at the sight of it.
I'm proud to be a part of that wonderful experience."-Hajara Bey,
Student Participant

"It is a well executed project that could be repeated elsewhere"-
Mark Francis, Curator, Andy Warhol Museum

"Every project that comes into the STUDIO has its own set of
needs, parameters, circumstances. We try to provide maximum
flexibility. The advantage of being a small fish in a big pond and
having people come in and out of the family is that we get to be
helpers, supporters---and can see a lot of things getting done. Also
seeing the tools being shaped and changed and adapted to an art
purpose is very exciting. Even the scientists on the campus admire
that. It's not often that this institution gets to be part of something
that serves youth/literacy and winds up on the side of a public
building 20 feet high.

The important thing is not to get in an artist's way. Artists are great
goal setters and problem solvers. And the technology you used
really lends itself well to an artist's creative process. I saw the two
of you making lots of decisions and working around the
shortcomings of the STUDIO and the technology."-Marge Myers,
STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, Carnegie Mellon

We feel strongly that computer equipment and training-- now
privatized-- should be freely accessible, similar to Community
Access TV or books in the library. Like the democratization of
reading through the advent of free libraries in the 1800's, public
access will provide a foundation for broadly based computer literacy
throughout the population.

This project was generously supported by: the PA Council on the
Arts, Howard Heinz Endowment, the Pittsburgh Foundation, Miles
Inc. Foundation, Blue Cross of Western Pennsylvania, Mellon Bank,
The STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon, The
Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, Filmet, Inc., Heinz U.S.A.,
Metromedia Technologies, AMG Sign Company, PCTV, Neilly
Canvas Co., Joanne, Bruce and Charlie Wilder, Keith K.
Kappmeyer, Cafe Azure/Robert H. Flory, Jr., Papyrus Designs,
Wilder, Mahood, & Crenney.

A video documenting the project, "Literacy -- Spoken throught the
Arts," is available from the Times Project, 2304 Sherbrook Street,
Pittsburgh Pa 15217, USA.
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