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

Design ITP NYU

Design For the First World

My friend and former ITP classmate, Carolina Vallejo’s project, Design for the First World needs help with funding on Kickstarter and with spreading the word around the internets. In Carolina’s own words:

My ITP thesis project Design for the First World, is a competition with a motto: The Rest Saving the West.
I’m proposing to flip the traditional equation of the first world helping the “third” by calling artists, designers and thinkers of developing and emerging economies to propose ideas to solve 4 first world problems: obesity, consumerism, integration of immigration and low birth rate and aging population.
The call is open until July 1st, and there’s a 1000 dollars prize along with a catalog and an exhibit coming in the fall. I’m still looking for great contestants so if you know awesome people from and living in a developing country send them my way!
Also, I’m raising money through Kickstarter and i’m 84% funded (5 days to go!) so please consider donating if you can, tweeting and posting on facebook are also of GREAT help!!
Thanks much!
Facebook page
Twitter: @d1xw
Design Interactive ITP

Vote for BetaCup – Networked Loyalty

Networked coffee mugs provide an update to the old 10th-cup-free punch-card customer loyalty program. Our highly modular system allows any coffee shop to use one of our mug readers, link it to their name and physical location, and get started immediately with the program. Shops will sell RFID-enabled stickers at a low cost to customers who provide their own reusable coffee mug. Once the sticker is applied to a mug, that mug can be scanned at any participating coffee shop’s reader to log refills anywhere the customer goes.

The BetaCup (we liked the name, so we went with it!) reader – the in-store device that reads each mug’s sticker – provides haptic feedback in the form of a light thud to let the customer know that the mug was indeed scanned. The customer will feel the vibration through the cup. It also provides visual feedback with low powered LED lights when a 10-cup milestone is reached, so that baristas and servers will know when to issue a free refill. Each scan is followed by an appropriate timeout so customers will be unable to take advantage of the system. Optionally, businesses can use our API, or new services that are created with our API, to create real-time displays to show BetaCup usage at their shop.

Read more and vote for BetaCup on Jovoto!

ITP New York NYC NYU Photography Pictures

ITP After Party & Tisch Salute Photos

Art Design ITP NYU Photography Pictures

ITP Spring Show 2010

Photos from the ITP Spring Show 2010. Full set on Flickr.

Estrella Intersects The Plane by Matthew Richard

Significant Other by Diego Rioja

The Life Dress by Elizabeth Fuller