Remembering Red Burns

On Friday we received the sad news that our teacher and inspiration Red Burns​ had passed passed away. Red was the founder of ITP, the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, where several members of the Foossa collective earned our graduate degrees.

ITP is a magical place where creativity and collaboration flourish. It is a place that encourages innovation through play. It is a supportive environment where we can cultivate and integrate our multiple interests and identities: as artists, as designers, as technologists, as entrepreneurs, and as humans.

Thank you for everything Red. You opened up my eyes to new worlds and changed my life, just like you did for so many other fellow students who walked through your doors at ITP. None of my work with Foossa would have been possible if I had never met you.

Red taught a required course for all 100+ members of the first-year ITP cohort called “Applications of Interactive Technologies,” or as we called it, simply “Applications.” My classmate Ari Joseph discusses the purpose of Applications in an essay he shared on Facebook and with the ITP Alumni email list:

The only constant is the word application. You can’t learn the right way to use an Arduino, or the right way to use Processing, or the right way to use a Sony Portapac, or the right way to use a Pic card, or the right way to use Macromedia Shockwave, or the right way to use javascript. An application only makes sense within the context of a problem (“I want to help refugee family members be able to reunite with one another more efficiently”), or with a message to communicate (“I want to remind people who unexpectedly become caretakers that they aren’t alone”). “Applications” is a reminder that without a problem to solve or a message to convey, a skill is void of meaning and direction. (emphasis added)

Every week in Applications, an eminent guest speaker from the world of art, technology, design, or other field would give a presentation to our class. The following week, an assigned small group of students would have to present in class their creative response to the work of the previous week’s guest speaker.

I had the honor and the horror of being in the first group. Our group’s presentation was a creative response to the work of the first week’s guest, artist/designer/landscape architect Vito Acconci.

Our group presented our ideas for reinventing public space, making it playful and multifunctional, much like our interpretation of Acconci’s work. We chose Central Park as the venue, and each member of the team chose a different site in the park to reinvent.

Through the process of doing the group assignment for Applications, I built lasting bonds with my teammates and also developed a new interest in public space. I had gone to ITP with an interest in building online communities in cyberspace, but Red and Vito Acconci helped me see the importance of shared physical public space as well, which sparked my curiosity and shifted the trajectory of my work.

During the first session of Applications, Red would present to the incoming class of new students a list of what she wanted us to know and what she hoped for us in our time at ITP. Luis Daniel, a fellow ITPer, has published a version of this list on his site. Below is an abridged version of that list, all points that I am reflecting upon today, and which I would like to share with you.

What I want you to know:

  • That the biggest danger is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.
  • That there is a knowledge shift from static knowledge to a dynamic searching paradigm.
  • That creativity is not the game preserve of artists, but an intrinsic feature of all human activity.
  • That there is a complex connection between social and technological trends. It is virtually impossible to unravel except by hindsight.
  • That you ask yourself what you want and then you work backwards.

What I hope for you:

  • That you combine that edgy mixture of self-confidence and doubt.
  • That you think of technology as a verb- not a noun.
  • That you remember the issues are usually not technical.
  • That you create opportunities to improvise.
  • That you observe, imagine and create.
  • That you look for the question, not the solution.
  • That you are not seduced by speed and power.
  • That you don’t see the world as a market, but rather a place that people live in – you are designing for people – not machines.
  • That you have a stake in magic and mystery and art.
  • That you understand the value of pictures, words, and critical thinking.
  • That poetry drives you, not hardware.
  • That you are willing to risk, make mistakes, and learn from failure.
  • That you embrace the unexpected.
  • That you value serendipity.
  • That you listen. That you ask questions.That you speculate and experiment.
  • That you play. That you are spontaneous.That you collaborate.
  • That each day is magic for you.
  • That you turn your thinking upside down.
  • That you make whole pieces out of disparate parts.
  • That you develop a moral compass.
  • That you welcome loners, cellists, and poets.
  • That you are flexible. That you are open.
  • That you can laugh at yourself. That you are kind.
  • That you consider why natural phenomena seduce us.

I’m still processing my feelings, gathering my thoughts, and remembering old stories about Red, working on making “whole pieces out of disparate parts.” Today I had a magical day, doing some of things that Red hoped for us. I played, embraced serendipity, pondered nature while observing and listening to the waves lap onto the shore. I will continue to look for the question, not the solution.

Perhaps it is time for me to pick up the cello again.

​Rest in peace Red. Thanks again for the the opportunities that you gave us.

We can honor Red’s legacy by contributing to the Red Burns Scholarship Fund.

ITP30 Red Tribute Video from ITP on Vimeo.

Additional References

SokoSquare Thesis Presentation

Video of me presenting my ITP thesis project: SokoSquare.

ITP Thesis Presentation: SokoSquare from lee-sean on Vimeo.

Download PDF of my SokoSquare thesis paper

And here is the back channel chat log from Chatterous:

maddparker@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:19):
i have a friend who’s nickname is soko
tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:19):
good.
tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:19):
everyone should know about it, Gordie
Gordie posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:20):
Lee-Sean leading the dapper award for the day
ruferto posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:20):
like the white suit
maddparker@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:20):
Pete Leonard!
maddparker@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:20):
I could make so many Vassar CS jokes no one else would get…
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:20):
try us
maddparker@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:21):
nah, maybe offline
clmensch@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:21):
he just did
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:21):
lee-sean.presentation = smooth;
Xiaoyang Feng posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:22):
Juri Imamura: http://itp.nyu.edu/thesis/spring2010_archives/Juri%20Imamura_ITP%20Thesis%202010_Large.mp4
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:22):
benjamins
Sarah Dahnke posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:22):
lee sean gets street in his presentation
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:22):
how often do you hear that in a master’s thesis presentation?
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:23):
amen
pl posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:24):
slowly backing away.. enjoy presentations, and have fun.
Sarah Dahnke posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:24):
“conduit” is the word of the week
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:24):
badgers
tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:25):
I thought the word was “bear”
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:26):
chicken & egg would be a contender
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:26):
2 words tho
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:26):
and a punctuation dealy
jorge posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:26):
ampersand
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:26):
bless you
jorge posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:26):
thanks
andrewstyer@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:26):
the lee-sean camera view (the upper-right thumbnail) is pretty awesome
tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:27):
that’s awesome.
jorge posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:27):
he traded that house for an ipad 3g
tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:28):
I’d give three red paperclips for an apartment in Brooklyn
Sarah Dahnke posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:28):
did tom just hate on brooklyn?
tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:28):
no, I live there. I love it there.
Marianne posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:28):
No.
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:29):
www.soko.com is taken
Sarah Dahnke posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:29):
my rent in brooklyn is due
Sarah Dahnke posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:29):
maybe I can pay with paperclips
Sarah Dahnke posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:29):
or maybe leesean can find something for me to barter
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:29):
100,000 paper clips
jorge posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:30):
roy: http://sokosquare.com/
paulparadiso posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:30):
Can you not pay them in dance?
Marianne posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:30):
(Roy – I bet you can barter rustproofing if you want.)
Sarah Dahnke posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:31):
paul, I bet you could get me out of at least a month’s rent with your merce cunningham impression
tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:31):
now that’s a specific impression!
paulparadiso posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:31):
deal
Sarah Dahnke posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:31):
tom, you should see it
Sarah Dahnke posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:32):
maybe paul could do it on the break
tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:32):
I should.
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:32):
rustproofing?
Marianne posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:32):
(did you read the link you sent?)
jorge posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:32):
i do an impression of merce cunningham in the composition and choreography phase. mainly i just roll dice.
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:33):
now i did
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:33):
i prefer engines
Sarah Dahnke posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:33):
jorge, win
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:33):
clap, clap, clap
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:34):
stern hiss
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:34):
oohhh, me
jorge posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:35):
http://blog.sokosquare.com/ needs some updatin’
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:35):
will program for food
andrewstyer@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:35):
what can i trade him for his jacket?
Sarah Dahnke posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:35):
if I programmed for food, I’d never eat again
paulparadiso posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:35):
a velcro jacket
mustafa bagdatli posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:35):
your weird thing with velcro
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:35):
if i danced for food, i’d get hit w/tomatoes
tymm posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:36):
i gave up eating a long time ago.
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:36):
tomatoes nom
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:37):
I can decorate Peters house..with beer cans
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:37):
that’s a great idea
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:37):
clpa, clap
tehaynes posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:37):
just have to throw it in there. the bell reminds of spelling bees
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:38):
delay( 120000 );
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:38):
I spelled “cloud” wrong in a spelling bee
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:38):
humiliating
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:39):
I was 14
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:39):
i still can’t spell buroucraecey
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:39):
beurocarcy
ckundo posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:39):
bureaocracy
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:40):
buracracy?
jelanijohn@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:40):
barrackacy
Roy Vanegas posted from the web at (05/05/10 13:41):
that’s it!
jelanijohn@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:42):
ok, 20 mins to get to school before next presenter
jelanijohn@… sent an instant message at (05/05/10 13:42):
gotta pwrwalk
Xiaoyang Feng posted from a guest at (05/05/10 13:55):
Lee-Sean huang: http://itp.nyu.edu/thesis/spring2010_archives/Lee-Sean%20Huang_ITP%20Thesis%202010_Large.mp4