Interview With NMC President, Mat Rappaport

By Zach Duer,Assistant Professor in the Creative Technologies Program in the School of Visual Arts at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Zach:  Why did the Media Caucus decide to hold a symposium?  When did the conversation start, how has it evolved, and what do you want the symposium to accomplish?

Mat: Over the last few years, we have engaged in a self-study of the NMC, which included polling our members to figure out how can we be more effective in supporting new media artists and new media scholars, both within the academy and outside of it.  We were somewhat surprised that a significant proportion of members do not regularly attend CAA (The College Art Association), our annual opportunity to meet in person. In conversations with the members of our Advisory Board, we realized that we needed to bring a more substantial portion of the membership together and to develop opportunities where we can consider central themes being addressed in the field and in society.  

Another vital component of Border Control is that we have an exhibition that will be up for over a month. We are fortunate to be working with Allison Collins from Western Front who, as lead curator, has selected works in concert with our Exhibition Committee. This has been a long-standing goal of the NMC as an organization.  Our events have traditionally been organized around the programming of the CAA conference, which is less than a week long, within a city, and in a convention center and hotel. In that setting, exhibitions are challenging to organize, never mind sustain for longer than the conference itself. The Border Control symposium is an incredible opportunity to bring together scholarship with exhibited artwork.

Zach: Why did NMC pick Ann Arbor and UMich as the first location?

Mat: Basically, we have a fantastic partner. Gunalan Nadarajan, the Dean of the Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan, is a member of the NMC Advisory Board and he was instrumental in getting us to think about organizing a standalone event. Guna generously offered the University of Michigan as a host.  Their support has made this whole thing possible, both in terms of the exhibition and the symposium.  

Organizing the events has been a team effort. The STAMPS gallery director, Srimoyee Mitra, and her team have been fabulous to work with. We’ve been working with the PR team, and the design team at the Stamps School and they’ve helped to develop the conference identity.  And then we have our folks from the NMC, through the exhibition committee and the symposium committee, with 8 or 9 people in each. It’s a pretty big endeavor to pull it all together.

Zach: How did you land on the Border Control theme for the symposium?

Mat: When we started to organize the symposium, we assembled a steering committee with members from the NMC board and from the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design.  We wanted to have a timely theme that engaged global discussions broadly while being open to multiple levels and methods of interpretation. 

Border Control was selected because of the multiple ways contemporary society is navigating these critical issues.  Specifically, we were looking at migration and national borders both in the United States and in Europe and shifting notions of defined identities; specifically how identity is being shifted, queered, and blended, and how the interdisciplinarity is changing how we produce work.

Zach: What value do you think it can add that doesn’t exist from other existing conferences or symposia?

Mat: The NMC Board has discussed how our events can be a catalyst for generating and sharing knowledge with the field. The symposium and exhibition will bring together over a hundred presenters for panels, presentations, workshops, and artist-led events.  We think this will provide an awesome opportunity to learn about the diversity of practices and approaches that are being employed to explore these critical themes. 

The NMC is committed to cultivating diversity and inclusion in our organization and the field as a whole. So, in addition to being an opportunity for the NMC community to come together, the symposium will bring together presenters and audience members who have not traditionally been involved with the NMC. It provides an opportunity to connect with people who have not been part of our direct community.  

When we were dreaming of what the organization could be in 5 years, 15 years, 30 years, Johanna Gosse, the Executive Editor of the Media-N Journal, said she felt we could be the conscience of a field that at least on the commercial side tends to be very enchanted with utopian views of technology.  And that really stuck with me. While many of us (NMC members) enjoy our technology, we also have a healthy skepticism and look critically at how these tools, techniques, and practices are implemented within the broader culture, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. 

Zach: What are you most excited about for the Border Control symposium?

Mat: I’m most excited to meet people who haven’t been able to attend NMC events before.  I’m interested in building more international bridges so we can engage and help to represent multiple cultural perspectives when it comes to artists and scholars dealing with new media and new media based practices.  I’m also excited to attend all the panels, the workshops, and the exhibition because it looks incredible!