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ASU professor teaches students to find masterpieces in virtual worlds.
Teaching students to see and execute creativity in virtual realms.
January 5, 2016

ASU professor is an expert in 'virtual world' education

You can open a book and look at a picture of an artistic masterpiece or, in a virtual world, you can soar inside a 3-D version and become part of it.

An Arizona State University professor has become an expert in teaching via virtual worlds — computer-based simulated environments where users create avatars, which are online versions of themselves.

Mary Stokrocki, an art education professor in the School of ArtThe School of Art is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts., has created artistic worlds not only for the ASU students she teaches but also for children and senior citizens. She teaches primarily in the Second LifeSecond Life is a virtual online world where users can explore the environs via digital avatars of themselves, or other creations. The service has more than 1 million users. virtual world.

“Everyone thinks this is a game,” StokrockiMary StokrockiStokrocki was named the 2015 Kenneth Marantz Distinguished Fellow for the U.S. Society for Education Through Art. She also was the editor of the 2014 book “Exploration in Virtual Worlds: New Digital Multi-Media Literacy Investigations for Art Education.” said. “It’s a multi-use platform. There is multi-literacy — many ways to communicate, including music and dance.”

The virtual worlds are practical. Students can communicate with peers around the world and explore textures and spatial design instantly. And they can build sculptures or architecture in Second Life that can be created in real life using a 3-D printer.

Much of Stokrocki’s work is done across cultures, including several months teaching “digital ethnography” in Taiwan as a Fulbright Scholar, when she had students create an art exhibit about their country in Second Life.

She has also worked with Navajo and Apache students and participated in a virtual-world project at a charter school in Apache Junction.

Using avatars can transform students and free them to open their minds about themselves, she said.

“I worked with 80-year-olds. In real life, no hair. In Second Life, hair. Tattoos up and down their avatar bodies,” she said.

At first, students hesitate.

“But then they’re fearless,” she said.

Her own avatar is the Lizard of Ars — “ars” is Latin for “art.” Her space in Second Life is called Art Ark (seen in the photo at top).

In class, students learn to search out the masterpieces in the virtual world, like treasures, she said.

"At first they don't know what they're looking for. Our job is to teach them to see.”

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Year in review: Department of English edition

Take a look back at ASU English faculty and alumni 2015 book releases.
ASU English faculty and alumni explore universal themes of life in recent works.
December 29, 2015

Faculty and alumni from ASU's Department of English enjoyed a year full of new book releases

Arizona State University’s Department of English has no shortage of talented alumni and faculty, as is evidenced by the latest crop of novels, short-story collections, memoirs and poetry to come out of their ranks. In this look back at some of their most notable releases from 2015, ASU Now delves into a literary mash-up of such universal and persistent themes as death, birth, love, betrayal, humor and hopelessness.

2015 alumni releases

Karankawa,” University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015, by Iliana Rocha (MFA Creative Writing, 2008)

Winner of the 2014 Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, “Karankawa” is a collection that explores some of the ways in which we (re)construct our personal histories. Rich in family narratives, myths and creation stories, Rocha’s poems investigate passage — dying, coming out, transforming, being born — as well as the gaps that also reside in our stories, for, as Rocha suggests, the opportunity to create myths is provided by great silences.

Rocha is now a PhD candidate in English with a creative writing emphasis at Western Michigan University. While earning her MFA at ASU, she served as poetry editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. Her work has been chosen for the Best New Poets 2014 anthology and has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Yalobusha Review, Puerto del Sol and Third Coast.

Fortune Smiles,” Random House, 2015, by Adam Johnson (BA Cronkite, 1992)

Johnson’s “Fortune Smiles” is a collection of surreal and comic short stories that deal with natural disasters, technology and politics, and take place in settings ranging from Palo Alto, California, to New Orleans to North Korea. A winner of the National Book Award for fiction, the collection was hailed as “surprising, wondrous, comic and devastating” by competition judges, who called Johnson “one of the most talented writers of his generation.”

Johnson is also the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his acclaimed novel about North Korea, “The Orphan Master’s Son.”

A Teacher’s Tale: A Memoir,” iUniverse/True Directions, 2015, by Joe Gilliland (PhD English, 1979)

In Gilliland’s inspiring memoir, he recounts how it was never his intention to become a teacher but how that has been the path he has followed for more than 50 years. Beginning in 1932 with Gilliland's first experiences in schooling, “A Teacher’s Tale” concludes in the summer of 1955 just as he is about to become a qualified instructor in a small college in east Texas. Throughout the story Gilliland brings together a philosophy of higher education based on the importance of arts and humanities in today's fast-paced, high-tech world.

Gilliland earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in English from the University of Texas, Austin, before earning his doctorate in English from ASU. He is now retired and currently resides in Bisbee, Arizona, with his wife, Bettie.

The Porcupine of Truth,” Scholastic/Arthur A Levine, 2015, by Bill Konigsberg (MFA Creative Writing, 2005)

In this epic road-trip novel, Konigsberg explores themes of family history, gay history and discovering oneself. The novel is at times funny, poetic and enlightening.

Also the author of critically acclaimed “Openly Straight,” Konigsberg was a sportswriter for the Associated Press and before he began writing novels. The winner of a GLAAD Media Award for a coming-out essay written while working at, he lives in Chandler, Arizona, with his partner, Chuck.

2015 faculty releases

The Quotations of Bone,” Copper Canyon, 2015, by Norman Dubie (Regents’ Professor of English)

Called “one of our premier poets” by the New York Times, Dubie is known for his powerfully imaginative work in which he often assumes historical personae. In “The Quotations of Bone,” his 29th collection of poems, Dubie elicits a rich, vibrant vision of the world that leads the reader to uncommon ways of understanding humanity.

Dubie has been a part of ASU’s Creative Writing program since the 1970s and has given poetry readings throughout the United States.

Ball: Stories,” Soft Skull, 2015, by Tara Ison (associate professor of English)

“Ball” is the debut collection of short fiction by Ison, acclaimed author of the novels “Rockaway” and “A Child Out of Alcatraz.” In it, she explores the darker side of love, sex and death, and how they are often intimately connected. The stories, set mostly in contemporary Los Angeles, feature a recently bereaved young woman, a cancer-stricken best friend and a dying uncle.

Ison recently released the memoir “Reeling Through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love, and Die at the Movies.” Her short fiction, essays, poetry and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Publishers Weekly; O, the Oprah Magazine; the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine and Book Review; and the Chicago Tribune. Ison is also the co-writer of the cult film “Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.”

A Solemn Pleasure: To Imagine, Witness, and Write (The Art of the Essay),” Bellevue Literary Press, 2015, by Melissa Pritchard (professor of English)

In an essay contained in “A Solemn Pleasure,” Pritchard poses the question, “Why write?” The collection attempts to answer that question, among others, by proving the power of language. The various essays explore themes of imagination, literary figures past, Pritchard’s personal experiences and finding inspiration in our own lives.

Pritchard’s writing has received the Flannery O’Connor, Janet Heidinger Kafka and Carl Sandburg awards and two of her short fiction collections were New York Times Notable Book and Editors’ Choice selections. She has worked as a journalist in Afghanistan, India and Ethiopia.

Scrapper,” Soho Press, 2015, by Matt Bell (assistant professor of English)

Author of the well-received novel “In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods,” Bell returns to tell the tale of a post-apocalyptic Detroit in “Scrapper.” A devastating reimagining of one of America’s greatest cities, it forces the reader to confront the consequences of one’s actions, even when they are made with the best intentions.

Bell has written book criticism and coverage for the Los Angeles Times, PEN America, the Quarterly Conversation and the Brooklyn Rail, where he writes a monthly interview series. He is also the former senior editor of Dzanc Books and the founding editor of the Collagist, an online literary journal.


To see more of what ASU English alumni, faculty and staff have to offer in the way of literary entertainment and enlightenment, check out the links below.

Recent alumni publications:

Recent faculty and staff publications:

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Pursuing 2 dreams requires a fine balance

Pursuing Olympic skating dreams requires fine balance for full-time ASU student.
Skate in the morning. Study in the day. The daily life of ASU Olympic hopeful.
December 21, 2015

Full-time ASU student strives to be top-ranked figure skater

When Daniel Kulenkamp steps onto the ice and begins to glide across the frosty rink, he leaves Arizona State University behind.

In those moments, he's focused on grinding out jumps and perfecting graceful spins. After he's done, Kulenkamp removes his skates and returns to the responsibilities that come with being a student in Barrett, the Honors College.

The 20-year-old is pursuing his dream of being a championship figure skater while also studying full time.

That requires a balancing act as fine as the edge of his skate blade.

“We always say that when you get to the rink you want to check it at the door, skate and pick it back up when you leave,” he said of the outside world beyond skating.

Kulenkamp gets to the rink every morning Mondays through Fridays, where he trains for at least two and half hours. Off the ice, he works on weights and conditioning, including plyometrics, at least an hour a day.

At ASU, where he’s majoring in computer science during his first year at the university, Kulenkamp took 16 credits in the fall semester, half of them online.

He also coaches a youth hockey team and gives private skating lessons.

“I’ve always been somewhat of an overachiever,” Kulenkamp said. “But I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do.”

Sometimes, it’s almost impossible.

“There was one day where I didn’t score quite as well on an exam as I had hoped for and it carried over into the rink the next day, but for the most part, I’m pretty good about keeping everything separate,” he said.


Daniel Kulenkamp

Daniel Kulenkamp skates two and half hours a day, five days a week at the Ice Den rink in Scottsdale. Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


With fall semester over, Kulenkamp is now concentrating on perfecting his short and long programs for the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January.

He’s one of several skaters from the Coyotes Skating Club, based at the Ice Den in Scottsdale, to qualify for the national championships.

Kulenkamp came in eighth place at the nationals last January in the junior division. He has since moved up to the senior men’s level and added a triple axel jump — one of the most difficult moves.

“My ultimate goal is to place in the top 12 at nationals, but I try not to think about that because then you get caught up in the placements,” he said. “I want to skate as cleanly and as well as I can.”

The competition in January will be especially meaningful to him because it’s in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota. The Kulenkamp family moved to Scottsdale earlier this year so Daniel, and his 17-year-old brother Grant, also a figure skater, could train at the Ice Den and so Daniel could attend ASU.

“Barrett was a big factor because I wanted a more challenging school, and Barrett supplies that along with the big research university that I wanted,” said Kulenkamp, who went to an online high school for two years and then accumulated more than 50 credits at the University of Minnesota through dual-enrollment classes.

His coaches have been supportive.

“They know that was part of the decision moving here — that I was going to go to school,” he said.

Doug LadretDoug Ladret, a two-time Olympian and Canadian pairs skating champion, is the Ice Den's director of figure skating development., one of Kulenkamp's coaches at the Ice Den, said that time management is a crucial part of the sport.

"You can't always choose when you train. You have to train when the ice is available. They have to train around school and that happens from the time they start skating, in elementary school and middle school," he said.

"Coaches know that. We all did it too."

Kulenkamp is working toward making the U.S. National Team for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. He knows he will need to add at least one quadruple jump to his program for that.

“Seniors have more difficult jumps and longer programs, but it also has more to do with artistic ability and the power that you have while you’re skating,” he said.

“Plus there are bigger crowds.”

Kulenkamp has already worked his spring semester classes around his training schedule, but competitions are always tricky. He’ll miss the first day of classes while he’s at nationals in Minnesota.

As a Barrett student, he’s required to take the program’s signature “Human Event” course, where absences are limited.

“I’m extremely cautious to plan my trips around those classes,” he said.

Maintaining that balance is the key.

“I really want to get the degree, but I also want to see where skating takes me.”

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ASU grad brings an artistic view into the scientific world.
December 18, 2015

ASU doctoral grad Edgar Cardenas uses his own backyard to document the changes people can make

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

“The objective is to teach the student to see the land, to understand what he sees, and enjoy what he understands”
—  Aldo Leopold, from “The Role of Wildlife in a Liberal Education”

As a high school student in rural Wisconsin, Edgar Cardenas liked to draw. But after high school he stopped creating art, “because I thought I was supposed to be a grown-up.” 

No one in Cardenas’ family had finished high school — not his mother and father, who were both immigrants from Mexico, or his stepfather, a devout Jevovah’s Witness who considered higher education a distraction from religion. Even the guidance counselor at the high school assumed Cardenas wouldn’t continue his education: When he expressed interest in a psychology class, the counselor told him that was for students who were going to college.

Cardenas took the class anyway. He got an A.

Years later he has earned his doctorate from Arizona State University's School of Sustainability as a photographer who brings an artistic view into the scientific world.

After high school, Cardenas knew, he was “supposed to” get a job. He said he tried, first building fiberglass semi trailers, then cellphones on the factory line at Motorola. But he couldn’t do work he didn’t enjoy, he said. He decided to go to community college. He also joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

Unaware that there was such a thing as financial aid, he worked as a night janitor for the Beloit school district to support himself while he took classes, sleeping when he could. After a few years, he transferred to Gordon College, in Massachusetts, where he received a bachelor's degree in psychology. From there, he went on to graduate school at the University of New Haven and earned a master's degree in industrial/organizational psychology.

It was only after his master's program that he found his way back to art by starting to take photos. At the time he was working as an organizational development consultant, once again doing the thing he thought he was “supposed to do.” But his heart wasn’t in it. 

One day he walked into a gallery in New Haven and encountered the photographs of Walker Evans. He met the curator, John Hill, who had provided the work for the exhibition and knew Evans personally, and they started talking. One thing led to another, Cardenas said, and he began working in Hill’s studio and getting an informal education in the history of photography.

Two guys with something interesting in their hands.

Edgar Cardenas (left) and ASU
Regents' Professor Mark Klett
at Cardenas' graduation.

Courtesy photo

“I was working as a consultant still,” Cardenas said, “but I didn’t like the work. Then the firm disbanded and they asked me if I wanted to go to another firm. And I decided that no, I wanted to be a photo assistant.”

He took a significant pay cut to go to work for New Haven photographer Robert Lisak, a Yale MFA grad. He also started studying for his GRE, because he’d learned about the School of Sustainability at ASU and was interested in applying and earning a doctorate.

“Sustainability was attractive (to me) because of its interdisciplinarity,” Cardenas said. “I knew when I applied to ASU that what I had wanted to do was blend image-making with the sciences.”

By his second semester at ASU, he had connected with renowned geologist-turned-photographer Mark Klett, an ASU Regents' Professor, who invited Cardenas to take his Photography Fieldwork course, which pairs trained photographers with scientists. Cardenas explains the course as “understanding Phoenix through image-making,” in the spirit of the old survey photographers who came out and documented the West.

“[Graduate students] at the University of Arizona, where I’ve gone to speak a few times, all say, ‘You guys are doing the creative stuff up there. We’re not allowed to do stuff like that.’ ”
— Edgar Cardenas, ASU doctoral graduate from the School of Sustainability

Through that class and others in the School of Art and the School of Sustainability, Cardenas was able to accomplish two things.

First, he found his art community.

“Before coming to ASU, I had mentors, but I didn’t have a cohort,” he said. Once he had a community, “we could comment on each other’s work. It was a way of getting me up and running on the ideas I wanted to explore and how I wanted to communicate them.”

Second, he was able to continue his pursuit of projects that combined both art and science.

“Artists and scientists do a similar thing,” Cardenas explained. “They take data and they organize it. They just do that differently.”

For his culminating project, Cardenas looked close to home.

“Within sustainability we abstract a lot of ideas. We think about them in a global context. I started thinking about how we exercise our sustainability. I started with the backyard, which is a personal space. How do I practice sustainability in a personal space?”

The body of work he produced is called “One Hundred Little Dramas.” Cardenas observed and documented, through photography and video, how he transformed the backyard over the course of three years. That transformation involved collecting what amounted to hundreds of pounds of compost from the School of Sustainability, plus people’s discarded leaves and wood chips.

“I told people, bring me the waste so I can use it as input for my garden. I was changing the backyard in these ways that would transform it into a different ecological space. I was aware that I was building a habitat for lizards, for birds. I would learn about where the lizards would lay their eggs so we wouldn’t step on those spaces. I saved many baby birds and took them to an aviary. I planted sunflower seeds for the birds. You get in tune with the rhythm of the space.” 

For Cardenas, the work wasn’t just about documenting a place. It was about understanding that place on multiple levels.

“Understanding how ecology works in these little places, that transforms the way you see places you hike, for example. It changes your perspective on the world.”

Cardenas said he doesn’t think he could have produced his dissertation, which gave equal weight to the arts and to the sciences, anywhere but at ASU.

“I brought together perspectives on aesthetics and Aldo Leopold’s relevance to sustainability, produced a thesis exhibit, and then conducted a social psychological study, all under the sustainability umbrella,” Cardenas said. “These three components would not have come together anywhere else.”

His committee consisted of photographer Klett; environmental ethicist and conservation scholar Ben Minteer; sociologist Ed Hackett; and ecologist Dan Childers, who runs the Wetland Ecosystem Ecology Lab at ASU.

“It’s a double-edged sword when you have a program that is very interdisciplinary,” Cardenas said. “You have a lot of rope to hang yourself. But if you’re going to do a project that’s really innovative, you need a lot of rope to run around. And they provided me that.

“People [graduate students] at the University of Arizona, where I’ve gone to speak a few times, all say, ‘You guys are doing the creative stuff up there. We’re not allowed to do stuff like that.’ ”

“Edgar was the first student to pursue such an ambitious agenda integrating art and science, and he was equally proficient in both,” said Klett, who hooded Cardenas at the School of Sustainability graduation ceremony on Dec. 15. “His research was groundbreaking, and it opens the door for future students to pursue a similar path in art and science.”

According to School of Art director Adriene Jenik, the success of Cardenas’ work has helped pave the way for discussions about the possibility of a concurrent degree in art and sustainability, which she sees as a natural fit. In addition to Klett, both Julie Anand and visiting artist Christine Lee teach courses in the School of Art that combine art and sustainability.

Whatever Cardenas does going forward, it will involve both art and science. On his website Cardenas lists himself as an “artscientist,” and he believes that both disciplines benefit from the marriage of the two.

“Art and science provide us with different kinds of information,” he said. “I don’t think they can be overlaid. They come together like a puzzle. I find that the sciences provide us with rich data on the dynamics that are taking place in the world. But that information has to be coupled with our value structures. Art raises that awareness — it raises questions about what we want in our lives and how we think about that more deeply.”

Deborah Sussman Susser

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


ASU News

Colorful abstract art focus of new ASU Gammage exhibit

December 15, 2015

Colorful images of abstract and modern art by two Arizona artists will be featured in an exhibition at ASU Gammage Dec. 13-Feb. 9.

Melissa Schleuger’s dynamic art incorporates geometric shapes into an organic backdrop, creating work that blends the unexpected with sophistication and beauty. Specializing in abstract expressionism, she begins each painting without preconceived influence and follows the lead of brush strokes and paint. abstract painting "Plus One" by Arizona artist Melissa Schleuger Download Full Image

Schleuger recently was named one of the finest emerging artists in the Valley by the 2015 Chancellor Awards of Maricopa Community Colleges. A student at Scottsdale Community College, she has shown her work at local venues including the Herberger Theater and Art Intersection.

Geoff Gildner’s work reflects his experience in the architectural field, using color, form and the shapes of the natural environment as a foundation. Many of the vibrant pieces on exhibit at Gammage are created using found objects such as wood, glass, sheet metal and old canvas paintings.

A 1994 history graduate from ASU with an emphasis on architecture, Gilner is a self-trained artist who is influenced by the works of Mondrian, Rietveld, Kandinsky, Pollack and de Kooning, as well as the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. His work can be found in private art collections both in the United States and abroad.

abstract art

"Witnesses to the Actions of One" by Arizona artist Geoff Gildner


Exhibit hours at ASU Gammage are 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays, or by appointment. Due to rehearsals, event set-up, performances, special events and holidays, it is advisable to call (480) 965-6912 or (480) 965-0458 to ensure viewing hours, since they are subject to cancellation without notice.

The street address is 1200 S. Forest Ave., Tempe. Parking is available at meters around the perimeter of ASU Gammage. Entrance is through east lobby doors at the box office.

Media contact: Brad Myers, art exhibit coordinator, 480-965-6912

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December 9, 2015

ASU Biodesign Institute employees share their work through the power of visuals

They say a picture is worth a thousand words — something that can be especially handy when talking about science. ASU researchers used the power of high resolution photography to share their work through a photo contest called Seeing Science, presented by ASU’s Biodesign Institute. From the microscopic to the macroscopic, images of science’s wonders present a creative view of an analytical discipline.

Out of more than 170 entries, a winner was selected for six categories: Photomicroscopy, Science, Artistic Science, People at Work, Science and Nature, and Smartphone. Best of Show, People's Choice and Judges Choice (Honorable Mention) awards were also given.

Take a look at the winners below:

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ASU takes its theater program into the prison system.
No first-show jitters as this stage show debuts in prison.
December 1, 2015

ASU students and Eyman Prison inmates unite for performance

Rania Zeineddine peers through a wall of windows, watching the audience fill the seats in this makeshift theater.

She and her fellow actors start the show tapping on the glass to get the attention of her co-stars on the other side. One of them, Charles Thigpen, comes over and flattens his palms against the glass. She does the same before they start laughing and mimicking each other as if the window were a mirror.

This will be the closest thing to physical contact these actors will have in their performance. Once the seats are filled and the doors open, the actors will have one strict rule to follow: No touching.

This isn’t an avant-garde theater edict. This is a condition of staging a play inside the boundaries of Eyman State Prison.

Zeineddine is one of three Arizona State University undergrads who coordinated and crafted “Free Drama,” a 45-minute joint production between the students and Eyman inmates that stages the journal entries these prisoners and students exchanged during the course of a semester in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre’sThe School of Film, Dance and Theatre is part of ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Theatre Across Prison Walls class.

The doors finally open and the three students wearing ASU shirts walk inside, ready to join the prisoners wearing jumpsuits with “ADC” emblazoned on them.

There isn’t apprehension or fear. Rather, there are smiles and the joy coming from actors who get to perform their stories in front of an actual audience.

Prisoners performing a play.

Inmate Dusty Lewis plays the nagging
wife who beats "husband"
Gregory Fulton during a scene
written in "Free Drama."

Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now


An inspired design

Rivka Rocchio has spent the past two years teaching drama to inmates inside Arizona’s Eyman Prison. But it wasn’t until this semester that the ASU graduate student decided to incorporate undergrads into the process.

She liked the idea of teaching a class that involved an exchange of ideas between her students in prison and her undergraduate drama students. The idea was approved, but there was one problem: The two sides wouldn’t be able to regularly meet to create a production. So Rocchio, who is using this project as part of her graduate thesis, improvised.

“We asked them to create a master list of themes and motifs that they were interested in, so of those five themes they were interested in, I created a series of journal prompts,” Rocchio said.

They settled on five themes: going home, joy or enjoyment inside of prison, emotions, animals, and stereotypes and layers. Each week Rocchio would ask the students to write journal entries relating to the prompts. After the entries were exchanged between classes, the students selected the pieces that best fulfilled the themes.

Rocchio then gave students in each classes prompts to delve into deeper stories that were developed into group scenes or monologues.

But the exercise become more intriguing when Rocchio decided to have the students and prisoners swap stories for the performance.

The results were varied ­— an inmate spoke about a first summer job interview at Starbucks, an ASU theater major performed a monologue documenting drug addiction and redemption through the Bible and religion.

“That really gave the students the opportunity to try on each others’ stories, to live in that identity for a little while and experience what it would be like, what it would feel like to say as a 23-year-old college student I’ve been a drug addict for 40 years and this is the impact that it’s had on my life,” Rocchio said.

Salome Chuma, an ASU theater major, was cast in an inmate’s tale of fighting with a doctor while his newborn child was in the NICU.

“That was the first time he had ever mentioned that story to anyone else, and he was like, ‘It was interesting that this is a story that’s personal to me and it’s in my memory and now it’s something that you have in your memory now. It’s weird that it’s living in two different people, and I’m seeing that lived out through you,’ ” Chuma said. “As actors you kind of never forget a monologue, or a show, so it’s now a part of you just how it’s a part of them too …  it’s crazy.”



Performing with passion

Back in the Cook Unit of Eyman Prison, Chuma sits in a chair on “stage” during the performance in front of inmates and prison administrators.

Her hands are empty, but she relays a monologue about a letter inmate T.J. Garrison had written to his mom, who died during his time in prison. The dialogue explained his attempts to better himself and to better understand his mother’s motivations.

Garrison is soft-spoken and contemplative. His fingers are tattooed with letters that spell out “beauty.” He was convicted in 1997 at the age of 20 and wrote his journal entry on a day he simply “felt open,” which many Cook Unit inmates say is rare.

“When she performed the “mamalogue” I cried, I sat on the side and I was like, ‘Man, these people are going to see me cry,’ and I didn’t care and I let it go,” Garrison said. “To see something that I had written, put down and is going to be acted by somebody else, it made my heart swell, it made my heart swell a lot.”

Afterward, he thanked Chuma for the performance. She thanked him for sharing his emotions and words.

“I didn’t think anything I could do could ever have that kind of effect on somebody, and that felt really powerful,” Chuma said.

Much of the show, which veered from poignant introspection to comedy, inspired the same sentiments between parties.

As the production closed, Rocchio gives thanks to the Arizona Department of Corrections, her graduate adviser and to her students before asking the entire group to paint a large white banner with their thoughts about the performance with markers or fingers. Inmate Garrison writes a large and colorful “Namaste” while B. Brewer, his tattoed hands covered in purple paint, makes hand stamp prints up and down the banner.

An appreciated understanding

Rocchio said the moment this unique experience “clicked” for her students was during the hourlong car ride back to ASU from the prison in Florence. Her students related their initial apprehension and how it gave way to an understanding that drama became a shared experience to better understand another person they had seen as so different from themselves.

“That’s what I want you to get out of it,” Rocchio said. “You are people and these are people and you connect through the passions that you have for theater and art.”


Story, photos and video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

ASU News

ASU grad student receives prestigious international award

Best Student Music Submission awarded for work on dinosaur sound

November 29, 2015

A panel at the 41st International Computer Music Conference has presented ASU School of Arts, Media and Engineering and School of Music graduate student Courtney Brown the award for 2015 Best Student Music Submission, its annual top student honor, for her original composition “How to Speak Dinosaur: Courtship.”

Brown’s dual background in music and computer science provided the foundation on which she fabricated the Corythosaurus skull she calls Rawr!, the central piece in her transdisciplinary project “Rawr! A Study in Sonic Skulls.” Corythosaurus skull ASU graduate student Courtney Brown and the Corythosaurus skull she calls Rawr!, the central piece in her transdisciplinary project “Rawr! A Study in Sonic Skulls.” Photo courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Download Full Image

Brown developed the mechanical larynx and dinosaur design with her Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) adviser, Garth Paine, associate professor in interactive sound and digital media in the School of Art, Media and Engineering and professor of composition in the School of Music. In August, the Corythosaurus skull prototype was displayed as an interactive sound exhibit at the 2015 Ars Electronica festival in Linz, Austria. Brown’s project had been awarded a Prix Ars Electronica honorary mention, one of the most prestigious media arts honors in the world.

Brown noted that the composition was the start of the work she had done in developing a performance practice for Rawr!, “a lot of which is based on call and response, and, of course, on the narrative elements.” She also used extra mouthpieces (a bassoon reed and a tuba mouthpiece) to create different sounds.

“This work was composed for the tubist David Earll, and his work on the piece was an integral part of it, especially his skill with extended techniques,” Brown said. “David was an ASU DMA tuba student at the time, and he now teaches low brass at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.”

She added, “James DeMars was my composition professor at the time. It was he who suggested the tuba, and David (as a player) in particular. Originally, I was thinking of the trombone. Before I wrote this piece, I wasn’t aware of the tremendous flexibility and variety of timbres that the tuba could produce. It is very good at low dinosaur-like sounds.”

Before she could compose the piece, Brown had to first construct the skull prototype, engaging in hard science research in order to create an instrument that could emit an accurate sound. Discovering the Corythosaurus voice started with piecing together the skull itself.

“The skull is created from CT scans. The inside is a little more faithful than the outside,” Brown explained. “One side was crushed. It’s actually a mirror image of the two sides, so we have a whole Corythosaurus skull, a standing object that was created with 3-D printing. When you create something like this from digital fabrication, there are limitations. The skull is as faithful as it could be within the limitations that we had.”

The next set of design constraints involved the dinosaur’s vocalization mechanisms.

“The mechanical larynx is as scientifically accurate as it can be considering that after 77 million years, there are no soft-tissue remains. But through the research we did, I can tell you that in vocalizing creatures, your hearing range is tuned to your own voice; therefore, assuming that these dinosaurs were vocalizing creatures, I could look at their hearing,” Brown said.

Brown said she knows that the dinosaurs could hear because there are remains of the cochlea: “In archosaurs, which include birds and reptiles, the length of the cochlea corresponds to the range of best hearing ... you have the frequency of best hearing, and the limit of their hearing. The frequency of best hearing is 267 hertz.” The larynx Brown made was developed according to such specifications.

And what of the composition itself?

“That’s my compositional conceit,” Brown said. “I used crocodiles for inspiration, as crocodiles are the hadrosaurs’ closest living relatives. The challenge was that crocodiles actually originated their sounding larynx. Their ancestors had larynges, but they weren’t used for sound. The sounds they make are amazing. Just the idea of them responding to thunder amorously, I think, is very humorous. It kind of gave me a window to create this piece. This is kind of like a ‘Hello, world’ piece for the dinosaur.”

Brown doesn’t take for granted the accolades she has received for her work.

“The ICMC award was a surprise and an honor,” she said. “I'm thrilled to receive international recognition for my work, and grateful for the support of the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, the School of Music and ASU and their support via a Student Enrichment Grant to attend the conference.”

“How to Speak Dinosaur: Courtship” is an original music composition written by Courtney Brown for hadrosaur skull (Courtney Brown) and tuba (David Earll).

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Before his show at Gammage, Sanford Biggers schools some ASU art students.
Sanford Biggers: An artist who understands how to embrace the unexpected.
November 19, 2015

While visiting ASU, Sanford Biggers explains how to embrace unplanned creativity — and unintended reaction

Interdisciplinary artist Sanford Biggers is a hard guy to pin down for an answer.

It’s not because the New York artist, pictured above right, is evasive or shy; he just wants his work to have multiple meanings and outcomes.

Take, for example, the teaser he provided for “Moon Medicine,” his upcoming show at ASU Gammage:

“We’re an all-black boy band but it’s not all black men and the entire band might not necessarily show up,” Biggers said with a straight face and a slight glint in his eye. “There’s a lot of room for improvisation. I don’t even know what it will be like.”

Others have described "Moon Medicine" as a music and optical experiment that weaves funk, film noir, punk, sci-fi, traditional Samoan dance and Buddhism with original video content and improvised “turntableism Turntableism is using a record turntable as an instrument.” and “VeejayingA Veejay is a video tracker and editing tool that can also be a real-time video sequencer or effects generator..”

That’s a mouthful, but Biggers wouldn’t have it any other way.

“When I started to construct my creative language, I used to think that art was about delivering a specific message to a viewer. But one critique early in my career changed the way I viewed my work,” said Biggers, who is an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Visual Arts program and is in Tempe as part of a 10-day residency sponsored by ASU Gammage and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“There were people from Haiti, China, Mississippi and they all saw my work differently. I recall using some boat imagery and one person saw it as slavery while another person saw it as freedom. I then realized that maybe it wasn’t a bad thing if you unveil your art and ascribe different meanings from personal experiences.”

Biggers’ work and installations have been celebrated through exhibitions both nationally and internationally, including the Tate Modern in London; the Whitney Museum in Harlem, New York; the Yerba Blue Center for the Arts in San Francisco; and institutions in China, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Poland and Russia.

Woman vamping on stage.

ASU intermedia graduate student
Veronica Aponte stands center stage
during her class performance and
likens toys to audience members.

Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

He said he intentionally complicates issues such as politics, religion, identity, race and art history to offer new perspectives to established symbols. This past Monday Biggers offered his perspective — as well as a critique — to an intermedia class taught by Angela Ellsworth in ASU's School of ArtThe School of Art is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts..

The class presented a 10-minute interactive piece called, “Omni Optic,” which touched on themes of surveillance, technology and privacy. Part of the presentation included setting up Biggers by recording a brief presentation he gave of his work, and playing it back minutes later on a large screen.

Biggers acted neither surprised nor outraged by the intrusion, but embraced the concept. In fact, he liked it so much that he invited the class to participate in his Saturday performance.

“What you just saw right now shows there’s room for improvisation in any performance, even on the fly,” Biggers said. “My boy band just got bigger.”

“Moon Medicine” starts at 7 p.m. Saturday at ASU Gammage in Tempe. Tickets are $20, $15 for ASU faculty and staff and $10 for students and members of the military.

For more information visit ASU Gammage.

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ASU student-run laptop orchestra combines computer programming, performance art.
November 4, 2015

Laptop computers have become such an essential part of our lives that it’s almost become odd to consider doing things like paying bills or buying a book without one.

But conducting an orchestra?

That’s the premise behind LORKAS, a student-run experimental “laptop orchestra” at Arizona State University that’s bridging the gap between the worlds of computer programming and performance art.

“We come from a wide swath of people. While I wouldn’t use the word ‘misfit-y,’ I definitely can say we’re a weird bunch,” said Althea Pergakis, a digital culture major in the School of Arts, Media and EngineeringThe School of Arts, Media and Engineering is a collaborative initiative between the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering., who is also the co-director of LORKAS.

The ensemble, which is comprised of 10 core members, includes instrumentalists, programmers, composers, audio engineers, designers, singers and fabrication specialists. As a whole, it’s encouraging creative expression with technology and the arts.

“Half the people are into digital media while the other half are coming from the School of MusicThe School of Music is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.. We are all looking for something new, weird and different,” Pergakis said. “Essentially, LORKAS is a sandbox that allows us to go to a special place and explore.”

People sitting under lights with computers

LORKAS, ASU's student-run laptop orchestra,
performs by coding music both before and during performances.

Photo by Garrett Mitchell
(Top photo by Matthew Briggs)

The group will participate in the annual School of Music Prisms Contemporary Music Festival, which runs Nov. 4-7 on ASU’s Tempe campus. This year the festival will honor renowned French composer Pierre Boulez, celebrating his 90th birthday.

As part of the festival, LORKAS is hosting a Nov. 4 workshop featuring Diemo Schwarz, an artist and executive with Paris-based Ircam, considered one of the more cutting-edge, non-profit research centers in the field of music technology and the media arts. 

Founded in 2010, LORKAS was inspired by other laptop orchestras that began popping up after Stanford University debuted the concept a decade ago. The orchestra uses specialty-software equipped laptops to create original compositions in an improvisational manner, enhanced by gestural controls, eyesight cameras and wireless DMX lighting to create a one-of-a-kind sonic and aesthetic experience.

“We are generating live sounds and a lot of the music is improvisational,” Pergakis said. “We really do try to add a little zing to our set by immersing people in the sound.”

Each “instrument” consists of a laptop, an individual speaker, and a variety of control devices such as keyboards, graphic tablets and sensors which are run by ChucK, a music programming language that allows participants to code both in preparation for and during an actual performance.

“I find the interactivity between human beings and technology to be fascinating,” said co-director Justin Leo Kennedy, who is working on his Doctor of Musical Arts in composition in the School of Music. “There’s a stigma that the millennials have ruined a generation of music because of technology. And if I hear that one more time, I’ll probably throw up.”

LORKAS is also adding a little zing to its professional resume. December will see the release of their first album, “Nodes,” which includes 60 minutes of original compositions.

“People should come to LORKAS and see that both technology and music are what we decide to make of it,” Kennedy said.