Directing a New Nexus Lab Experiment


When I first arrived at ASU, I spent a bit of time in the Nexus Lab – talking with Michael Simeone, working with a few students who were doing some encoding, and giving a few presentations. One of those presentations as part of the Research Advancement series, was where I met my current collaborator, Jessica Rajko. From that first meeting we’ve developed our #VibrantLives work and have gone on to show it together in Canada, the U.S., and she’s shown it in Amsterdam. We’ve worked sniffing real time data and parsing and sonifying archival data. We’ve done research using both our various disciplinary languages and we’ve worked to bring the body to the fore – focusing on embodied knowing rather than language at times. This work eventually led to the two of us founding of the HSCollab together and we’ve since brought in new collaborators from across ASU and the Phoenix metro area. In many ways, my work today is a product of that talk hosted in the Nexus Lab and I am extraordinarily grateful to Michael for hosting an event that changed my career.

It’s in the context of that gratitude and generous collaboration that I now step into the role of the Interim Director for Nexus. Michael launched Nexus just three years ago and has done amazing things with it in a short time. He recently accepted his new position with ASU Libraries as Director of Data Science and Analytics. Lucky for me, he’s just a stone’s throw away from the Lab and we’ll be working together far into the future, I imagine.

As someone whose work has been transformed by the Nexus Lab’s vision for transdisciplinary collaboration, I plan to keep this kind of open, multi-disciplinary, creative engagement at the heart of what the Lab does in the next year. Along with Michael, I am working to bring a major initiative here to ASU and will be able to say more about that later this fall (I hope!). In the shorter term, I’ll be reaching out to our communities to see what has worked in the past and what people are hoping for in the future. My time as Interim Director coincides with a major review of work within the Institute for Humanities Research (which hosts Nexus), meaning that there are opportunities to shape our future programming based on evolving interests and needs. This may include continuing to develop a regional DH network. It likely will also mean focusing on the amazing strengths of ASU’s faculty and students who are doing work on the Tempe, West, Poly, and Downtown campuses.

slide1Much of the work I will be doing as Interim Director will expand on the community building that we’ve been doing as part of HSCollab, which now also includes the formidable and fabulous Marisa Duarte. Our monthly “Possibility Lunches” are already tackling issues around the Internet of Things and Decolonial Approaches to Technologies.

In the spring of 2017 HSCollab, GSI, and Nexus Lab will be hosting a Cyber+DH event with partners from Columbia U and UCLA. As with Collab, Nexus will be working to think about data, information, and technologies from a variety of perspectives, including those grounded in arts or creative research practices. There will be crocheting alongside our coding and dancing together with data. I’m excited by this new experiment and hope to see many of you around Nexus in the future!


Feminist Infrastructure as Metamorphic Infrastructure


I’m one of five women on a panel about Feminist Infrastructure at the Digital Humanities annual conference taking place now in Krakow, Poland. Due to other obligations, I’m here in the states, but my virtual presence will be manifest with little movie presentation. Related: not keen that this panel and so many others have been put on a “diversity” track, but happy everyone is there and doing the work.

Creating Feminist Infrastructure in the Digital Humanities

Susan Brown1,2, Tanya Clement3, Laura Mandell4, Deb Verhoeven5, Jacque Wernimont6

1School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph, Canada; 2English and Film Studies; Humanities Computing, University of Alberta, Canada; 3University of Texas at Austin, USA; 4Texas A&M University, USA; 5Deakin University, Australia; 6Arizona State University

Here’s my presentation

And here’s our abstract

This panel considers how gender and digital infrastructures shape each other. It will be a hybrid of the panel- and multiple-paper session with three sectioned themes:

  • Training and pedagogical traditions;
  • Examples of feminist technical infrastructure;
  • Infrastructure, collaboration, and credit.

The panel aims to improve understanding of:

  • 1) the extent to which even something as apparently neutral or apolitical as infrastructure is imbued with gender and other socio-political considerations;
  • 2) the impact of systemic gender and racial discrimination in a range of infrastructural contexts, notwithstanding the extent to which so many DH practitioners work hard to overcome the biases embedded in our cultures and our discourses; and
  • 3) current and prospective strategies for countering those biases.

We will seek to engage the audience throughout this session to include in the panel’s discussions a broad range of perspectives on and positions in relation to infrastructure.



DataPLAY Debuts


FemTechNet’s signal/noise conference, held in Ann Arbor (MI) this weekend, hosted the debut of Vibrant Lives’ DataPLAY.

Below is our playbill, which evokes early American playbills that were used to advertise formal theatrical events as well as technological experiences and new medical practices, like those at the World’s Fair or in smaller traveling techno-operas and shows.Slide1

In many ways the bill and the notion of a debut suggests a polished performance received by the audience. Instead we were working toward an experience that would bring together our datasets, everyday objects associated with play, and audience interaction and engagement, effectively engendering the performance in real time.

We created a playful space, the informal and cheerful aesthetics of our materials and signage were designed to invite participants into a communal engagement with sonified and haptified data (we might think here of a lineage of feminist play theory including Celia Pearce, Mechthild Nagel, Mary Flannagan, and Elizabeth Losh). Rather than the sometimes intimidating spaces of theatrical performance, we were working in the more quotidian open space of Hatcher library. In the tradition of feminist keywords, we were, in effect, playing with the word “play.” On the one hand, using it to evoke the idea of a thing, a performance to be consumed, and, on the other, as an action, the activities of play-time, the kind of noodling that is often thought of as a prelude to more formalized modes of production, or the play-acting of dress-up and theatrical performance.

This Play/playing was also an exercise in”Exquisite Engendering” a framing that draws on Erin Manning’s sense that”to engender is to undertake a reworking of form. To engender is to potentialize matter. Engendering involves potentiality at its most fertile: it calls forth the link between the incorporeal and the material, between the virtual and the actual” (The Politics of Touch 2007, p. 90). We were playing in order to activate matter. Everyone there were playing with data (so often rendered incorporeal despite our mantra that there is “no data without bodies”) in order to engender linkages between virtualized and non-virtual modes of being and knowing.

Here are our 6 play stations, or in Manning’s terms potentiality machines:

What did this mean in practice? It meant holding a large hand-crocheted net that resonated with data shedding in real time from a cell phone, or stepping into a dress that vibrated with the wearer’s data shed – suddenly feeling the ghostly but oh-so-plentiful emanations of one’s digital identity. DataPlayDressImage


It entailed people cradling beach balls as sonified histories of eugenic sterilization transformed them into singing, tingling orbs.

People dipped their hands into sandboxes that were alive with the data of global warming – both hearing and feeling a warming planet. And they braided bright cotton ropes that trembled with the Iraq Body Count numbers -plaiting and noting the steady beat of lives lost in a seemingly never-ending conflict.


While technology shows and fairs, both historically and today, tend to be about a spectacle of mastery and the creation of communal consumer desires, DataPLAY functions differently. Collectively, we performed many of the acts of care – braiding, dressing, cradling, and holding – that have so long been a part of feminized labor. We drew on this embodied vernacular as a way of engaging differently with data about the many violences to which too many human bodies and habitats have been subject. We performed feminized roles as a way of re-embodying the data, both to give ourselves ways of knowing it differently and as a way of expressing care for both the data and the bodies the data are meant to represent.

It was serious play to be sure; to hold data about sterilization and death close to your own body is no small gesture. It requires a willingness not only to hold space, but to allow your body to be a vector for the violated bodies held in numerical abstraction. It is an act of generosity and vulnerability and often it was expressed in poses of deep concentration and gentle handling. Similarly, to step into an awareness of the promiscuity of our digital devices as described in Wendy H.K. Chun’s work is to perform a willing encounter with the ways that commodity cultures harvest the actions of our everyday lives as labor and capital. Both required our participants to let go of the comforts of critical distance and to sit with the murky ways that textiles and objects remediate technical and archival information. I am immensely grateful to our players and it was, I think, a rather exquisite performance – beautiful in its articulation of the potentials of radical care in our engagements with data and the bodies that it always represents.

For more, check out the Storify of the event (and an earlier one this spring) and look for future posts with additional media materials!



The data playground we sort of knew we were making

all photos by Jessica Rajko

A quick overview

Last weekend Vibrant Lives premiered three new sculptures commissioned by the Mesa Arts Center. The sculptures, created in collaboration with local artist Bobby Zokaites, were designed to give people a larger-scale experience of real time data shed than we had done in previous events.

We consciously chose materials and shapes that would invite bodies to lay, stand, sit, and stretch across the pieces, allowing people to locate the vibration of their data output in different places. The idea was to let people play around with the ways they might feel the data being shed from their cell phones. We had a local wifi connection for participants and custom software that temporarily captured everyone’s outgoing data and transformed it into a song of sorts that was then played on our subsonic system to create vibration in the structures.

We chose the Mesa Arts Center event in part because we wanted to reach a broad range of people in terms of age, race, ability, and also experience with both art and technology. The event traditionally hosts 10,000 people per day over the two day event, so this was a really wonderful opportunity to expand our range of audience-participants.

What surprised us a bit and delighted us a great deal was the way that the space became a data-infused playground for kids. We watched as they played a variety of games on the structures, pulled bodies out when they got stuck, and prayed a few times when kids tested the strength of the pieces. I personally love that the idea of “play” that we had built in was robustly manifest in ways that brought exuberance, laughter, and exploration to the fore. We also really loved the moments when the kids asked parents or other adults why the structures were vibrating and little personal teaching moments emerged. Or, the moments when the vibrations became significant enough that whole groups of kids sat still, quiet, listening and feeling the flow of data from the devices around them. Those moments of stillness in the midst of huge data flows were really interesting.

The glorious hot mess

Our feminist methodological and political commitments manifest in being open about the glorious hot mess that is putting on an event like this – we aren’t about mastery. Jessica, Stjepan, and I were with the installation at 9 p.m. on Thursday night just 13 hours before opening when the hot mess got real. We managed to crash the server by visiting YouTube and then we somehow burned out our amplifier (too small a wire? too much muchness?). However it happened, we were doing real-time fixes then and there.

Hardware in process. Photo: Jessica Rajko

When those failed us, Stjepan and Jessica packed up the electronics and took them home where they worked on them later that night – including a last minute run to buy a new amp and an 11th hour code-fix to keep our processors from having to run both incoming and outgoing data (thereby fixing the YouTube crash issue). Jessica was putting in the new set up early Friday morning and our hot mess became our beautiful, well-run installation once more.

Data shed made visible. Costume: Eileen Standley, photo: Molly Schenck

The dance, generated as a realtime composition lasting an hour, grew out of a score created in collaboration with not only the dancers (all ASU dance students + Jessica Rajko and Eileen Standley) but also with the audience. Audience participants were tearing sheets of paper with the dancers to create yet more data shed, flocking with other dancers, or flowing through the performance in ways that blurred the boundary between dance performance and interactive participation.The realtime, improvised aspect of the choreography allowed for a kind of porous relationship with the audience – inviting more play and interactivity than we ever could have anticipated. This is a unique approach to dance making and the performance of research. It not only requires the fine-tuned awareness of the performers to be able to share the dance in the moment, but also the ability to respond in realtime to the unknown, the unexpected and as always, the unpredictable behavior of an on-site audience.

Mess is a them for us and when I returned early the next morning a fine layer of dust covered everything. As a mom, I took one look at all that shed “data” and despaired for the parents whose children would be covered in data dust. It’s an interesting idea – that we shed all over one another, that we’re everywhere dirty with other peoples’ data – but not so interesting if you’re a parent trying to get your kid from morning activity to lunch or another event not looking like a green cheeto. With some brooms, baby wipes, wet towels, and a few minutes, Jessica and I got the space back into kid frolicking friendly shape. But it’s an interesting site of tension in an installation like this – the balance between encouraging creative use and trying to keep in the good graces of our participants.

As I said, we aren’t about mastery and we had to flow along with our installation’s needs and the uses that our audiences wanted to make of it. I’m delighted by the play that happened, in part because it gave us a different view on data shed, which can often feel frightening and disempowering. Instead, the data here was turned into toy, into relaxation device, into mess – lots and lots of mess – and we and our audiences were able to revel in it even as we learned just how plentiful it is.

Jessica Rajko compiled a 3 minute highlight reel for those who would like to see it in action!

Our amazing team of collaborators

-Research: Jessica Rajko, Jacque Wernimont, Eileen Standley
-Sculpture Design: Bobby Zokaites
-Software: Stjepan Rajko, Michael Krzyzaniak, Kruthika Tanikella
-Dance: Sharon Ranieri McCaman, Yingzi Liang, Brianna DelRosal, Rebecca Olson Witt, Sandy Schoenewald

Our outstanding supporters, to whom we are very grateful!

Mesa Arts Center

Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

Global Security Initiative at ASU

Synthesis at ASU

ASU Institute for Humanities Research



Computational and Digital Humanities at ASU


I’m delighted that we are officially now in full swing with our new graduate certificate in Computational and Digital Humanities here at ASU. While I’m the current director, this has been a labor of love for many here at ASU, including fabulous folks like Michael Simeone, Alex Halavais, Jacqueline Hettel, and the amazing administrative staff in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies where the CDH is housed. The CDH has a great partner in the IHR Nexus Lab for Transdisciplinary Informatics and Digital Humanities.

As we put it in our founding documents: The digital revolution has transformed every discipline in the university, including humanities and qualitative social science fields. The graduate certificate in Digital Humanities will provide graduate students with methods and skills central to conducting humanities research that employs both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Specifically, it is designed to provide graduate students in the humanities and social science with cross training in interdisciplinary collaboration, project-based communication skills, and the simultaneous application of quantitative and qualitative research skills.

Students will enter with expertise in their enrolled graduate program and will craft a course of study for the certificate that draws on their existing curriculum in their enrolled graduate program, while also training them in new methods.


15 Credit Hours

  • CDH 501: Digital Humanities: Critical Theory and Methods (3 credit hours)
  • CDH 580: Digital Humanities Lab (3 credit hours)
  • CDH 593: Applied Project (3 credit hours)
  • Electives (6 credit hours total)

Elective Information

  • Students coming from a computational background should select at least one elective that enhances their skills in humanistic inquiry.
  • Students coming from a humanities or arts discipline should select at least one elective that develops computational/technical skills.
  • Students who come from backgrounds other than computer sciences or humanities and the arts will work with their academic advisor to select appropriate elective coursework.

Because many of the courses listed are transdisciplinary, students should consult with the graduate advisor and their CDH faculty when making their elective selections.

While we hope that a great many of our students from across the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and beyond will make the certificate part of their graduate training and scholarship, we also want to stress that it is not necessary to be enrolled in the certificate to take the classes listed above.

For more information, see the Certificate website or email me at jwernimo at asu.

Vibrant Lives at Spark! Festival

VibrantLivesSculpture_2 (1)

Vibrant Lives will be premiering three unique, interactive sculptures at the Spark! Mesa Festival of Creativity, in Mesa, AZ March 18 – 19, 2016  (12pm – 10pm). Our sculptures were constructed in spark-mesa-s-festival-of-creativity-events-spark-mesas-festival-of-creativity-logopartnership with local sculptor, Bobby Zokaites, and are designed to give festival-goers a sense of their real-time “data shed.” We will also be holding improvisatory performances both nights of the festival.

The sculptures use festival-goers’ mobile phone data to produce touch-based (haptic) feedback. Infrasonic subwoofers are placed within the sculptures, which produce vibration feedback based on the aggregated volume of data being shared from festival-goer’s mobile devices. Intended to be highly interactive, festival attendees are encouraged to sit, lay and even climb on each of the structures. Building off of the collaborative team’s ongoing research, the sculptures bring awareness to the massive amounts of data we shed from our personal devices.

VibrantLivesSculpture_2 (1)
Digital prototype


Spark! Festival is a free, family friendly festival that engages attendees in interactive artworks that ignite imagination. Celebrating its 5th year anniversary, the festival is produced by Mesa Arts Center (MAC), hosting events throughout its outdoor campus. Located on the north side of campus, our sculptures will be open to the public throughout the festival. Performances will occur 7 – 8pm both Friday and Saturday. The Vibrant Lives sculptures will be one of the first interactive installations attendees will see as they step off of the light rail.

Hosted installations at Spark! are by both local and national artists, though (MAC) has been making a concerted effort to increase the number of local artists it supports through the festival. The theme of this year’s festival is “Sights and Sounds,” though Vibrant Lives will ironically be presenting a work that engages festivalgoers through haptic (touch-based) feedback. During the festival, Mesa Arts Center sees about 10,000 attendees each day, making the festival one of the largest art/technology community events in the Valley. Attendees come from all across the Metro Phoenix, and festival attendance is expected to be higher this year due to the recent completion of the light rail line into downtown Mesa.