Pioneering multimedia artist Laurie Anderson labeled herself this way as it provided freedom to work in a variety of mediums—music, painting, technology, performance, and film.
In her new show All the Things I Lost in the Flood, she wryly noted that today everyone is a multimedia artist. This show is both a retrospective of the scraps that make up her catalogue as well as a hard look at the grief that comes with losing much of her life’s work, during the floods of Hurricane Sandy as well as losing her husband Lou Reed about a year later.
Since earning recognition in the 1970s she has been creating art that intersects music, video, and technology. It’s startling, in reviewing the remnants of her career, to see how forward she was with using computers in her storytelling. What struck me as interesting is how her lens as an artist was not much different than listening to what Vint Cerf, a founding father of the internet, had to say about the last 50 years of technology. These technologically-supported tales have been going on for decades*.
From masking her voice to sound like an impressionist doing Stephen Hawking to her early ‘80s mustachioed clone of herself who would handle the work while she was busy self-promoting all of the awesomeness that, of course, was her work. It’s as though Laurie Anderson was commenting on the Kardashian-selfie-culture before it existed.
As technologically moves forward, she mentioned how some of her work, such as the CD-ROM Puppet Motel** is no longer playable. This brings up that even though so many of her materials were lost to the brackish water of the Hudson River estuary, it may not matter how we hold on to these things. What’s left seems to only be what we can hold inside our phones.
The last time I saw Laurie Anderson was her show The End of the Moon, it was the early aughts and based on her time as the first (and it turns out now, “the only”) artist-in-residence for NASA. Much like that show, her stage was a simple: a chair, a musical area, and front-and-center emcee of stories. Yet the barebones set is inviting as though perhaps this is what her living room is like.
She continues to push the uses of technology to tell stories that gently take us a step further toward the subject and request we see and hear from new vantage points. Her “Habeas Corpus” show at the Armory in 2015 focused on imprisonment—specifically the imprisonment of former Guantanamo inmate Mohammed el Gharani who had been held from age 12 to 21. She created a larger-than-life sculpture of a him sitting in a chair (think: Lincoln Memorial). Then, as he’s not allowed in the U.S., she projected a live video feed of him sitting in a studio in West Africa and wrapped the image on this extra-large three-dimensional sculptural form of his body. From halfway around the world, he was required to sit still to align to the sculpture. It’s own reenactment of a type of prison.
Although the show was not fully cohesive, it’s organization was more like the (now antiquated) “box photos”—the collection of pictures that weren’t gorgeous enough to put into a formal photo album, yet still sentimental enough to hang on to and pull out every now and then. These are the off-kilter shots that add tone and shade to fill in the moment. In that way, Laurie Anderson provides us an an entertaining, historical examination of where we’ve been while always looking at where we’re going. It's like capturing fireflies as these are the moment betweens thought and expression.
* Last month I saw an on-stage interview of Vint Cerf at event hosted by Google (Los Angeles) and conducted by Reddit’s Chris Slowe. Along with a historical look, this chat included predictions for where technology is heading.
**At the risk of dating myself, I remember Puppet Motel from a class I took in 1995. Back then, CD ROMs were the movies of the future!
In the tech industry, as the men significantly outnumber the women, many companies are looking to become more diverse and create inclusive environments. Although the stats are improving, compared to the #metoo Hollywood firestorm of 2017, it feels like it’s occurring at a glacial pace.
This week’s Women in Tech breakfast panel are the type of important events for providing women a space to realize they’re not alone and that there are role models. Held at General Assembly in Santa Monica, the panel featured:
Here are some refreshing takes on how to approach networking, negotiations, mentorships, and amplifying your (or other’s) ideas.
Network All the Time
All the panelists agreed it’s important to network and stay in touch even when—in fact, especially when—you don’t need something. When people are in need, it’s easy to see and can be off-putting. Also, remember when you reach out to someone, such as in a cold email, that these are still people, so don’t be scared and provide personal context. This can be as simple as providing a compliment about someone’s portfolio work or what they said at a conference … you may not get a response, yet it will help make your name familiar.
Additionally, not everyone is comfortable in a traditional meet-n-greet format, so make sure to find networks events that suit you. For example a Ladies of UX hiking meet up or a circle group with Lean In Los Angeles.
Show Me the Money
Turns out that women often undersell their skill sets. One audience attendee, who is a tech recruiter, pointed out that by working with a recruiter, it’s possible to get a more accurate picture on the salary range. She gave the example of helping a woman who had been making $80,000, yet the recruiter knew that the typical salary for the role was $140,000.
To help with this, the panel suggested pushing the financial negotiations to the end of the interview process because at each step the organization is further investing and buying into you. Then negotiate on all the elements: title, more salary, a signing bonus, an educational stipend, or all of the above.
All of the panelists and some of the audience members strongly recommended applying to roles in which you do not have all of the qualifications. Their advice, if you hit 50–75% of the qualifications, then put in your resume. There’s two reasons for this, first is that men do this and don’t feel a need to check every box, and second is that good managers want to hire people who will stay in the role for a while so they will need to grow and master the position.
Once you start a new role, remember to be excited and hungry. By stretching for a role a bit out of your depth, it will provide many opportunities to try and learn new things.
Get Two Seats at the Table
When working in a competitive environment, become a role model who ensures that along with a seat for yourself, there’s an additional seat for a colleague. Sometimes this might mean going to your boss to say that “Person XX and myself need to be a part of that meeting/brainstorm/event.” By continuing to do this, you start to show and model a collaborative, inclusive behavior.
Additionally, the panelist mentioned thinking of mentorship beyond the traditional senior-junior roles and looking for peer mentors. Along with the helping to build a meaningful business network, it offers the opportunity to soundboard similar situations and solutions faced at your current career-level.
Be a Bullhorn — For Others and Yourself
An audience member working in the gaming industry commented on how many of her UX ideas were stolen by male counterparts. The panel was unanimous in its advice: have a colleague amplify that it was your idea or, if there’s no one around to do this, then ensure to amplify for yourself.
For example, say that yesterday you or a colleague were telling Thomas some ideas and the next day he promotes the ideas as his own. Rather than call him out directly, pivot the approach to “That’s great, I’m glad we’re on the same page. This is exactly what I was talking about yesterday.” Or if it was specifically someone else’s idea, “... This is exactly what Maryellen was talking about yesterday.”
Keep the Conversation Going
Although most of these issues pertain to women advocating on their own behalf in a male culture (salary, ideas, etc.), the panelists are making suggestions that will help all businesses foster great work environments. It’s important to continue the dialogue so that management teams can foster these work practices, yet it’s equally important to remember that none of this is about an us-vs-them gender environment. These are cultural shifts that take time, education, and continued practice to manifest and transform organizations. So it’s important to remember that everyone is on the same team trying to make great products.