Find out what Anna Huff Mercovich, new assistant professor of digital arts, has discovered after her first semester” at Hamilton, and learn about the technology she’ll be exploring with students in next semester’s “Media Strategies: New Frontiers in Storytelling
What classes did you teach last semester?
The classes I just taught were “Intro to Media: Integrated Media and Emerging Practices” [and] “Performance, Ritual, and Technology.” Next semester I’m teaching a class called “Media Strategies: New Frontiers in Storytelling.” It’s also a class that addresses non-linear collaborative and digital interactive storytelling, most often using digital technology or theatre.
What experiences stand out?
There was this really great midterm assignment where I had my students build installations for specific architectural spaces in [Kennedy Center for Theatre and the Studio Arts], and they did a fantastic job. It felt really nice because we were all there, with our masks on of course, but it actually felt like more of a happening … how they came up with and shared their ideas, and the pieces were really successful.
There’s a student who took a stone wall and made it look like the video was growing out of each rock. Another student had us all lay on the ground and had the projector move so it looked like we were going into outer space on a rocket ship. It was experiential in a way I think was needed at the time.
Why did you decide to teach?
My short answer is that I don’t want to stop learning, so to me teaching is really about learning. I think if I’m doing it right, if I continue to push my own sense of experience, try new things and let that experience be alive, then I get a lot of personal growth and I learn a lot from students as well.
Why did you apply to teach at Hamilton?
A lot of reasons played into it, but it was one of the few job descriptions that I felt was actually describing me in a very specific way. I have a very integrated media practice; I’m a performance artist who works with media and [a musician] who works collaboratively. … [Hamilton was] specifically looking for someone who worked between mediums … so, in a way, it was really a no-brainer because I saw the description, and I thought it looked like an institution that was making an effort to learn in more integrative and collaborative ways.
How has your experience been so far?
It’s been wonderful. It’s weird in a pandemic … I felt a little more out of touch with the process day-to-day of what the students were making, but then when we were in class, they made great work. I feel really good about how it went, and I felt it was important for me to cultivate a sense of community, especially this semester. I spent a lot of time on letting joy and fun be a part of class, but also making sure they were really doing things.
What are your hopes for next semester?
I’m excited about this new class because it’s something I’m really interested in, I think it’s going to be fun exploring ideas with students, and there’s a lot of new technology we’re going to try out. We’re going to get into playing with some VR and XR environments and think about storytelling,
There’s a consideration for the prevalence of digital media in our lives, and that it simply has to be addressed. It’s incredible to be at an institution where there’s all these technological specialists … also hired through that initiative, who are just so excited to dive into new technology.
What are the different technologies you use and plan on using in your courses?
We’re going to play with Unity, which is a 3D gaming and world building software. My background comes from multi-projectored installation performances, so last semester I had the students working a lot with projectors. I’m also getting them comfortable with programs like OBS and Twitch. … OBS is what a lot of people are using right now during a pandemic to make things happen via livestreams. Even renowned art institutions like The Kitchen, which is this open art space in New York City, have a Twitch TV channel. So OBS is a technology where you can do a live broadcast from your living room and stream it right to Twitch or other live-streaming platforms.
I want students to dive into what’s happening currently so they can feel comfortable making work in restrictive conditions. I think this will get students to think about how to tell a story. For example I may have them tell a story using real estate apps, or I’ve had students make soundtracks to a walk on Google Street View. So there’s a way to create that experience but in a narrative or more fantastical sense.
I’ve been trying to refine all the things we’re already doing all the time with a more critical and authored sensibility of what they can do in that landscape.
Have you worked a lot with the Digital Humanities Initiative?
I’m new, so I’m learning about it [but] it is my understanding that my hire is very connected to the DHI. … It’s kind of similar to the ‘Why Hamilton’ question, which is that there’s a consideration for the prevalence of digital media in our lives, and that it simply has to be addressed. It’s incredible to be at an institution where there’s all these technological specialists … also hired through that initiative, who are just so excited to dive into new technology. There’s a spidertech 3D scanner that’s a result of that initiative, and I’ve been using that to scan sculptures and put them into these gaming spaces, and it’s been really incredible.
What do you do in your free time?
I’ve been doing a lot of creative projects with my 4-year-old daughter. We’ve been making space movies, and sometimes it actually crosses into my work, where I find that there’s a lot of rich, collaborative energy that can happen between us. ... And I’m also a sucker for really shallow teen vampire TV series, so I’ve been watching some of those. … Of course, just reading for fun. I’ve been reading about early Quaker feminists, and I’ve found it really chill just to read about these women in the late 1700s and early 1800s who were … really committed to racial, social justice [and] gender equality, and in such a peaceful way.
Anything else to add?
I’ve been teaching all semester from this Air Stream that’s also my art studio, so that’s a fun fact. People usually think that I’m in an airplane or a spaceship, but it’s been a nice place to have a separate little pod to teach in, in the midst of very challenging circumstances. You have to work extra hard to divide your many selves. There’s parenting, the professor, the artist. It’s almost like I have to create a new space for each one of those people that I am.