An Interview with Andrew Quitmeyer of Digitial Naturalism
Interview by Darren Wershler, Jussi Parikka, and Lori Emerson
August 30, 2016
An interview with Andrew Quitmeyer, a PhD student at Georgia Tech whose research investigates the role that Digital Media can play for Biological Field Work.
Interviewers: What is your lab called and where is it?
Andrew Quitmeyer: Digital Naturalism—Mobile Studios
Location: Anywhere (theoretically), often in tropical rainforests that we have hiked into with some field biologists and artists.
Here’s a short video I made that explains the whole basic concept.
The main idea is to minimize the gap between the sites of discovery, inspiration, exploration, making, and testing. [To] build in the context of where you want to deploy your new interactive technology to provide rich feedback for design iterations.
Interviewers: What sorts of projects and activities form the core of your work? Is there a specific temporal or technological focus for your lab?
Andrew Quitmeyer: [I want my work to] connect people and technology to nature. [Some of my projects include making] animal interaction devices, document[ing] the work and tools of field biologists, [and creating] situated performance art in the forest.
Interviewers: Who uses the lab? Is it a space for students, for researchers, for seminars?
Andrew Quitmeyer: Students, professionals, amateurs, artists, technologists, designers, scientists, engineers, journalists, writers, documentarians.
Interviewers: What sorts of knowledge does the lab produce (writing, demonstrations, patents etc.) and how is it circulated (e.g., conference papers, pamphlets, books, videos, social media)?
Andrew Quitmeyer: All material produced is open source. We make zines, books, open source designs for mobile infrastructure, theatrical and interactive performances, lots of videos (and potentially a Network Television show kind of related to this coming out in 2017).
Interviewers: Tell us about your infrastructure. Do you have a designated space and how does that work?
Andrew Quitmeyer: We have the opposite of a designated space. We design mobile infrastructure to organize gear, provide work surfaces, or let you access information in many different ways while cut off from the regular connected human world. Expeditions usually last from nine days to several weeks. The nice thing about a mobile studio though, is that you can deploy it anywhere, [it’s] super easy. So I’ve popped up labs and repaired people’s gear at new media art festivals, academic conferences for the demos, and just [for] working in a park.
Check out some of the infrastructure Hannah Perner-Wilson created for a truly “Wearable Studio.”
Interviewers: What kind of financial support does the lab receive?
Andrew Quitmeyer: Ha! No official source so far. We just go with whatever little bits we can snag up here and there. Got one expedition paid for by the California Academy of Sciences (Madagascar Hiking Hack Booklet) and one expedition paid for by Georgia Tech.
Interviewers: What are your major theoretical touchstones?
Andrew Quitmeyer: Ethological principles (field biologists who study animals in their natural environments as opposed to in the lab) [in combination with] STS studies, critical design, critical making, and performance art.
Here’s a handy little Zine with photos that explains the theory from my dissertation.
Interviewers: What would you say is the lab’s most significant accomplishment to date?
Andrew Quitmeyer: Running around in the woods for my PhD, and managing to land a job from it! And really the development of [...] an infrastructure where I can now easily take 10–15 folks out into the wild, and we can set up a fully functioning electronics workspace really easily. The most recent official hiking hack was a breeze [because] we learned so much about what didn’t work from the previous hiking hacks.
Interviewers: Could you briefly describe your plans for the lab over the next 3–5 years?
Andrew Quitmeyer: More hiking hacks all over the world! I’m going to be starting as a professor in Singapore, and [I] aim to get more new media artists, designers, engineers, and biologists out together to work in the wilderness.