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Zach Lieberman joins MIT Media Lab

New adjunct associate professor combines fine arts and coding.
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Artwork by Zach Lieberman
Artwork by Zach Lieberman
Image: Zach Lieberman

Artist and educator Zach Lieberman has been appointed as an adjunct associate professor of media arts and sciences at the Media Lab. As of the fall 2019 semester, he is teaching courses and working on projects at the lab under the aegis of his newly founded research group, Future Sketches.

A new-media artist with a background in fine arts, Lieberman creates animations, public art, and installations that explore the relationship between computation, art, and movement. He holds degrees from Hunter College and Parsons School of Design, has been artist-in-residence at Ars Electronica Futurelab, Eyebeam, Dance Theater Workshop, and the Hangar Center for the Arts in Barcelona, and his work has been exhibited around the world. He is one of the co-founders of openFrameworks, a C++ library for creative coding.

Lieberman is particularly drawn to coding as a mode of expression, comparing it to poetry in its dichotomy between precision and infinite variation. “What I like about poetry is that it’s an art form where you’re using really precise words in a certain order to describe what it means to be human, what it means to be alive. It’s an art form that’s about precision with language,” says Lieberman. “And coding is really about precision, too, with an artificial language. You’re using language in a very specific order to make something emerge.”

His interest in code as a creative medium led Lieberman to found the School for Poetic Computation in 2013, an alternative school for art and technology in New York, where he continues to teach and advise. Lieberman also has a longstanding affinity for, and affiliation with, the Media Lab, citing John Maeda’s book “Design By Numbers” as a crucial influence. He worked with Golan Levin, a Media Lab alum from Maeda’s Aesthetics and Computation group, on a series of audiovisual projects under the moniker Tmema.

Lieberman also points to Media Lab founding faculty member Muriel Cooper as an inspiration and exemplar; his research group’s name, Future Sketches, is an homage to her. “The name comes from Muriel Cooper, whose work means a lot to me. She has this letter that she wrote for Plan Magazine in 1980, with a 12-page spread of all the work being done in her Visual Language Workshop. She finished that letter with, ‘This stands as a sketch for the future.’ My work is dedicated to exploring this tradition.”

“We’re really thrilled to have Zach join us at the lab,” says Tod Machover, Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media, who directs the Opera of the Future research group and is academic head of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences. “In addition to carrying on the legacy of Muriel Cooper that’s so intrinsic to the lab in a playful and thoughtful way, Zach is also committed to mentorship and fostering creativity. He has already become a kind of artistic Pied Piper to many of our students, in the loveliest, most productive way. I believe that Zach’s work and pedagogy will have a profound impact on the future fabric of the Media Lab.”

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