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GirlGeek of the Week
July 1999

Camille Utterback

Camille Utterback

I am an Interval Research Fellow and adjunct professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program, New York University. As a researcher, I develop new methods for organizing and rendering space on the computer screen. As an educator, I teach the class "Introduction to Computational Media". In addition to my work at NYU, I also freelance as a designer, programmer and technical consultant.
Some of my clients include Tripod, StockObjects, and The American Museum of Natural History. Games that I have designed and programmed for Tripod were twice awarded Macromedia Shocked Site of the Day (1996) and designated in NetGuide's "Best Free Things to do on the Internet" (1997).
Before focusing my attention on the digital world, I exhibited my artwork extensively in the Boston area. While serving as Program Director of the Artists Foundation Gallery and President and artist member of the Cornwall Gallery, I installed many shows at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, and was actively involved with Mobius, an artist-run space for experimental work in all media.
I have a BA in Art from Williams College, and a Masters degree from The Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, where I was awarded an Artist Pioneering Award in Interactive Media. I have also received grants for my work from the Mellon Foundation (1991) and the Masachusetts Cultural Council (1992).

When did you first discover your love and/or obsession with computers and technology?

My parents bought an Apple ][ when I was around 10. I was never good at computer games so I liked to use it for other things and started teaching myself to program. I remember writing programs in BASIC that would do my math homework for me! Somehow in Junior High I completely lost interest in anything computer related. I'm not sure exactly why. I remember that the computer classes offered in my school were really boring, and completely full of geeky guys. So maybe I was worried about being perceived as a geek, or maybe I just thought other subjects were more interesting. I took a lot of art classes instead.
All through high school and college I only used computers as word processors. It wasn't until I was out on my own, working in the art world that I rediscovered how cool computers were, and then it was sort of by accident! I was painting, and doing a lot of odd jobs to make ends meet. One catering job I did was for a group of guys who had just started their own multi-media company. We hit it off, and they showed me some projects they were working on. I was completely blown away! I guess I asked so many questions and suggested so many ideas to them that one of them finally said "You should get into this field. I think you'd be good at it!" It took me a couple of months for the idea to sink in, but I started taking classes, and eventually applied to graduate schools, one of which was ITP.

How do you earn a living?

I am an Interval Research Fellow at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. Basically, that means that Interval Research Corporation sponsors me, but I get to work on my own projects. It's a really wonderful opportunity to explore and experiment. So much goes unquestioned about how we currently represent things visually on the computer screen. I'm trying to develop ways to show multiple perspectives simultaneously - something along the lines of digital cubism. Recently I've been writing applications that use video tracking to respond to people's movement. In my installations people use their bodies to navigate through video, or control animations. I also teach an introductory programming course in my department, and occasionally do other freelance projects.

Do you consider yourself a Geek?

I was going to say yes, but then I realized, I hear the word so much, but I'm not 100 percent sure what it means. So, I looked it up, and based on Webster's definition I have to say NO! I'd never bite the head off a chicken, nor am I generally disapproved of! Maybe it's time they rewrote that definition.

From Webster's Dictionary Online:
Etymology: probably from English dialect geek, geck fool, from Low German geck, from Middle Low German Date: 1914.
1 : a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake.
2 : a person, often of an intellectual bent, who is disapproved of.

What is your favorite Web site?

Hmm, that's a hard one. I spend a lot of time at (the Interactive Telecommunications Program) because this site is where I sign out equipment, post examples for my class, and keep up on what's happening around the department. I love Plumbdesign's Visual Thesaurus, and John Maeda's Java calendars for Shiseido have been inspirations to me.

What do you do when you are not working?

I live in New York City, so there's always tons to do here. I go out with my friends a lot at night. I've recently been trying to get to galleries and museums more. Even just people watching in the park near my house can be interesting. I've lived here 3 years now, and I'm still amazed by it. I also just started volunteering for MOUSE ( which is an organization that provides technical support to the New York City public schools. I went to public school, and I know there's no way today's public school kids are getting a good education if they don't have access to functioning computers, so I'm trying to help out.



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