My goal as an educator is to create collaborative and hybrid intellectual and physical spaces where students are invested to think in innovative ways, gain new skills, collaborate with others, take risks and produce work that communicates with and impacts their communities. The creation of such spaces relies on providing equal attention to critical thinking, hands-on making, disciplinary depth and emotional investment in the process. I aim to help students develop and hone skills in technical areas of their interest, while consistently drawing their attention to the ultimate importance of storytelling and generating meaning through hybrid creative practices. By questioning the definitions of research, teaching, making, critique and collaboration, my classroom nurtures experimentation and critical inquiry. I strive to empower students to challenge all presuppositions – from those defined by traditional academic paths to social and political conventions. In doing this, I encourage students to think critically and redefine their role as “makers.” Once students take this to heart, they begin to realize their abilities and value their agency in shaping their educational experience, as well as their personal and our collective futures.
When I teach, I make an effort to blur local, national and global issues by exposing students to critical media art from around the world. My background in the sciences allows me to cross academic boundaries and mentor students from fine arts, music, computer science, engineering and architecture. I create an environment where diversity is the norm rather than the exception by promoting a wide range of ideas, histories and perspectives. In order to provide students with a wide range of interpretations of hybrid work, final critiques in my advanced classes consistently include visiting faculty and practitioners from Art, Architecture, Design, Computer Science, Engineering and the industry,.
With a background in music composition and physics, I approach the classroom with a varied tradition of critical inquiry and perspectives outside of expected art traditions. I believe in a critical and direct classroom that is generous in shared knowledge and responsive to students' interests. I encourage students to formulate projects that are reflective of their creative direction and give them the technical skills to realize their goals. When working with new media, I believe in project-based teaching that iterates between research (searching, thinking, asking, learning) and design (drawing, building, assembling). I encourage students to create work that reflects on their humanity and that avoids artifice (the "wow factor" of technology). Collaboration is crucial in all that I do, and by emphasizing it in my teaching, students learn from one another. I see classroom dynamics change when students have a shared investment in projects, and as an artist who works collaboratively, my experience makes me hyper-aware of how to best facilitate this goal.
I conduct my research and teaching in one laboratory that nurtures collaborative problem solving and creative play. This allows me to spend far more time with my students sharing my personal projects and engaging students in research projects that go beyond class work. As my work functions at the intersection of art, design and engineering; I seek and develop new platforms for disciplines to draw on one another’s strengths for my students as well. I have successfully aligned my research and teaching activities around three focus areas: building hybrid instruments (combining my musical interests with digital fabrication and physical computing), expanded theater (combining my performance practice with immersive and experiential media), and urban intervention (combining my work work in public spaces and interactive media). These research areas enable me to be expansive and inclusinve in my interactions with students across disciplines and levels of expertise.
I place an emphasis on research and teaching environments that join “high tech” and “low tech” practices and cultures: my students are encouraged to embrace a range of technologies -- from basic construction with paper and tape to software development -- and I integrate each into their creative practice in equal measures. Such environments focus my students' attention on innovative and accessible ways of making, which are shared within the vast internet-based Do-It-Yourself community. My curricula bring students into advanced prototyping and fabrication processes as early as possible, encouraging them to gain and evolve their digital skills alongside hands-on analog skills.
I work at the forefront of cross-disciplinary art and technology research and creation. At the University of Minnesota, I was among the founding faculty for the Collaborative Arts program and contributed equally to both its administration and curriculum. At Carnegie Mellon University, I am deeply involved with Integrative Design, Arts, and Technology (IDeATe). I worked closely with Thanassis Rikakis, ex-Vice Provost for Design, Art and Technology, to brainstorm and design the focus and communication strategies for the IDeATe and Emerging Media programs. Since the birth of these new undergraduate and masters programs at the intersection of technology and cultural innovation, I have been instrumental in coordinating curricula, transforming spaces and recruiting students. My involvement in these program and the broader art+technology efforts across campus is substantial and varied: I am among the leading managing faculty for the Emerging Media Masters (EM2) where I advise students working on industry driven and innovation focused projects at the intersection of technology and culture. This program combines courses from four different colleges to develop deep skills in computer science, engineering and media design, with integrative media courses that blend this expertise into the same classroom. I help lead the creation and implementation of a campus-wide physical computing curriculum that came online in Fall 2015, and I co-direct the curriculum for “Expanded Theater” research and teaching activities focusing on immersive and experiential media. Presently, I am spearheading the creation of a new track within the Emerging Media program on “Sound, Listening, Computation and Culture,” with participation from a dozen faculty from multiple units across campus. I advise various committees on campus-wide efforts to consolidate fabrication and research resources related to physical computing, digital fabrication and art+technology exhibition.
I engage my students in human-centered design approaches to creative problem solving and innovation. My physical computing course, now offered primarily to students from computer science and engineering, introduces undergraduates to design thinking methodologies that require them to work directly with a target community, conduct interviews and iterate through numerous low-fidelity prototypes in moving towards a final product. My urban intervention course matches interdisciplinary groups of students with existing communities and their identified problems, thereby challenging them to devise innovative solutions with technology for the real world. Throughout, I draw on the practice of group critique as the primary form of discursive feedback in order to help students develop the capacity to communicate their intentions and refine their thinking with words
Beyond my classroom, I make significant contributions to my institutions’ long-term plans for enhancing the development and usage of shared educational facilities and materials. At the University of Minnesota, I created a laboratory, a collective, as well as a repertoire of works, assignments, and tools for outdoor mobile projection. Activities within those areas still continue in Minneapolis. At CMU, I founded and currently direct ArtFab, a mixed media fabrication and experimentation laboratory that serves a wide range of students from several colleges. ArtFab brings a range of advanced digital fabrication workflows to the School of Art. In addition, ArtFab includes a newly created and fully decked out physical computing laboratory that is among the most advanced, well-stocked, integrative and accessible on campus. I also co-direct CodeLab, a Computational Design and Emerging Media laboratory within the School of Architecture that I helped overhaul over that last two years.
My collaborative approach to research deliberately blurs and exploits boundaries. Similarly, the boundaries between classroom and research are broken down in my teaching. By embracing an experiential and energetic teaching style and my classroom is not stationary; it functions both as a collaborative space and as one that can be transported to many locations. By creating projects that engage students in real-world learning and making, I create opportunities for them to develop emotionally as well as intellectually, build confidence in presenting their views to diverse audiences, and gain an awareness of how their efforts can actually have a positive impact in the world.
Ali Momeni, Teaching Statement, March 2016