The New Media Art Education & Research field, is one of the most dynamic and controversial fields of study and professional confrontation, at an international level, of the last few years. The possible relapse on a new generation of artists and designers, of a certain kind of theoretical, historical and critical teaching, to be possibly integrated with a more technical, instrumental and operational aspect, on the application of digital technologies (software and hardware) in a creative field, is the topic of many meeting.
A cultural and popular tool like Digicult, has always played a central role in this process: many of its contents represent a very reach source of critical information for students, researchers, artists and people . We should not forget that a high percentage of Digicult collaborators and members of the Network itself, have a direct experience in academic and university teaching. For this reasons, our magazine has always tried to enhance the activities carried out by specific Institutes, academies, universities, independent educational contexts in Italy and in Europe, meeting them, trying to understand their specificities and often comparing one to the other, mapping the education proposals and the quality of the programs proposed.
For this issue of Digicult we met Steven Devleminck and Boris Debackere, respectively Director and member of the internal Staff of Transmedia – Postgraduate Program in Arts + Media + Design, a two-year, full-time course, housed in Brussels, the heart of Europe in a geographic, political and cultural sense.
Transmedia is a school born in 1999 and it has grown within the Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design, Institute which has been dealing with photography, design, movie animations, visual arts in general, for more than a century. At the beginning it was a small Media Atelier within the school, then Transmedia gradually turned itself into an autonomous Institute of research on the use of digital technologies on contemporary art and design, placing the artistic practice at the core of its activities, within an educational context. Recently, the project turned into a real international postgraduate program, consisting of two years and focusing on: Research, Media and Production.
The difference between Transmedia and many other educational programs in Europe (we don’t want to say anything about Italy), is the importance given to research: and by research I mean also in-house research, students themselves become part of the Transmedia team, developing new artistic and research projects, new contacts and collaborations, according to their interests and paths. They create a sort of community with the students, where they try to go beyond teaching in its strict meaning, meant as a transmission of contents. This way they grow up within an artistic community and they develop their own skills during their educational path, getting in contact with people and producing contents themselves.
A constant and direct contact with critics, curators, artists and professionals working in the field, coming from Europe and invited to Transmedia classrooms every year, constitutes an absolutely unique moment of confrontation, incentive, and consciousness raising of the students towards a very complex, many-sided and difficult to analyse professional universe, for those who face this kind of studies for the first time.
So Transmedia is one of the most interesting realities in the New Media Art Education field in Europe. A very independent institute which welcomes not more than 20-25 students every year, run by competent people who have a rich background of years spent in contact with the research field, the artistic production and the festival field. Professionally and humanely inserted in an international circuit, which they take lifeblood from and which they compare to, avoiding any sort of localisms, narrow-mindedness or political influence. To know more about I leave the details to Steven Devlemink and Boris Debackere.
Silvia Bertolotti: What is the Aim of your program?
Steven Devlemink & Boris Debackere: What we offer is a “complete package” that combines a concrete artistic practice with high-quality academic teaching and research. We can achieve this thanks to the presence of several internationally recognized researchers, professionals and artists. Our goal is twofold: on the one hand we provide the basis for a high-level academic research and on the other hand we are promoting the production of a professional and successful artistic practice.
Silvia Bertolotti: How is the Transmedia Program structured?
Steven Devlemink & Boris Debackere: The program consists of a first year during which we provide all the theoretical and educational inputs and a second year focusing on the student’s artistic production. The works of the students are later presented during exhibitions or events held by private galleries or art centers. Given the priority that we grant to the quality of research, we soon realized that a one-year program would not have been enough to completely achieve the aim of our education. That is why we opted for a two-year program.
Silvia Bertolotti: What is your mission?
Steven Devlemink & Boris Debackere: Our mission is to train students / researchers / artists with the highest professionalism. What we want is that our students are trained in the research field as well as in “real-life” artistic production. The type of education and training we provide is intended to give all the necessary tools to successfully enter the professional world of Media Arts, no matter if it will lead to academic research or to artistic practice. This becomes possible thanks to the network of collaborations that Transmedia has with various institutes and arts centers; both locally and internationally.
Silvia Bertolotti: Speaking of collaborations, what are the relationships you have with other players, like art centres and institutes, schools and festivals?
Steven Devlemink & Boris Debackere: We said earlier that one of the purposes of Transmedia is to be a flexible program, whose focus is still the high-quality training of our students. For this reason you need to network, to create partnerships, to “build bridges,” not only locally (in the city of Brussels in our case, where we still have many projects and activities) or on a national level, but above all internationally. With some of these partners we have long term agreements, in other cases we simply work in partnerships on projects that can run for one or two years.
Silvia Bertolotti: What are the specific learning and educational tools you provide and the key points of your teaching program?
Steven Devlemink & Boris Debackere: As we said the Transmedia program consists of two years, a first year of (theoretical) inputs and a second year of (practical) output to be provided by the student. Three are the main points of the educational program of the first year:
Transmedia Studies (theory and philosophy of media and contemporary digital arts, an historical but mainly theoretical background)
Research Studies (a first part is devoted to academic research itself and a second part is dedicated to the production and the development of an individual artistic practice)
Individual Practice Studies (individual presentations, tutoring, monitoring)
These three parts are linked and they form a continuous and organic process. One of our educational tools is then an internal website, a sort communication platform, on which students work directly and interactively with reports, fact sheets, material, feedback on the teachers, seminars and workshops attended etc). At the end of the program every student will realize a research dossier together with the creation of the work itself.
Silvia Bertolotti: What is your students’ profile and background?
Steven Devlemink & Boris Debackere: Our students have many different backgrounds: they mainly studied visual arts, but also design, architecture, music, and there are students with philosophical, economic or sociological backgrounds. In any case, the main criterion for admission is that each student must hold a degree in his specific domain..
Silvia Bertolotti: What is your approach in the continuously evolving and changing context of the Digital Arts?
Steven Devlemink & Boris Debackere: The main goal for our students and artists is to be able to bring their work into the public sphere, in terms of public but also of professional context. After providing the theoretical and educational basis and giving them access to an extended and consolidated network of artists and arts dealers, the greatest challenge and ultimate goal remains the production of the work by the student. This is essential and we continue to emphasize that production is directly linked to an artistic content, rather than to the availability of technical means or funds. During the two years of the program we provide a constant monitoring of the work in terms of quality, evaluation and development as well as training tools and support. The student needs, however, to complete his work and introduce it himself in the artistic community.
Silvia Bertolotti: In a more generic critical perspective, what is your opinion, as privileged observers, concerning the current situation of the New Media and Digital Arts in Europe?
Steven Devlemink & Boris Debackere: The main element characterizing this artistic domain is the “fluidity” in terms of evolution, and change, which are by definition the key points of this specific field. The name Transmedia refers to this idea of “passing through and beyond” a certain environment, one or more technologies, a certain definition or a specific media. It is also difficult to define what is new and what’s not in this context. Digital arts by definition belong to a state of transition and this will be their situation also in the future. In this sense the word ” Transmedia ” truly helps to define this constant stream of content and technologies. The vision of Transmedia is once more critical, philosophical and based on a theoretical approach that still includes the artistic practice, as its final result, keeping quality as a value, development and educational criteria.