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by Arlene Tucker| Tartu, Estonia
Wednesday, 2 February 2011
tags: americas, art & design, europe, semiotics
Artist, toy maker and University of Tartu Semiotics Masters student Arlene Tucker talks to Semionaut
Where are you and what are you doing?
I moved to Helsinki at the beginning of this year. It’s my last semester of school at Tartu University in Estonia so I decided to take classes as an exchange student at Aalto University School of Art and Design (Helsinki) in the New Media and Game Design and Production Department.
How did you first become interested in semiotics?
Almost ten years ago, I saw Umberto Eco’s book sitting on a stool at my friend’s place in Savannah, Georgia. The strong blocky red, white, and black cover of A Theory of Semiotics immediately caught my attention. Adam’s description of semiotics being about signs, symbols, and how we communicate glued to my membranes and ever since semiotics seems to circle itself back to me. It can’t run away from me and I can’t run away from myself.
How does it feel to be one of the 2 native English speakers on the first year of the English language MA in Semiotics at Tartu?
Almost embarrassing because everybody is so talented with how well they can express themselves in English, especially because it is their second or third or fourth tongue! I wish I could say that for myself. Mostly, I learn so much from them.
How did you hear about the course and how are you adapting to academic life in Estonia?
Internet searches and a bit of luck led me to the call of applications for studies in Estonia. I knew I wanted to study semiotics and I knew that I wanted to again live in Europe so that combination Googled me to goodness. Actually, I think I reached out to Katre Väli, at the Semiotics Department in Tartu for information on the Masters one year prior to the program being ready. She asked me to wait and patience won me over. For my BFA I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design so being in a classical academic school such as Tartu University was a challenge in every way. Academic writing was totally new and making presentations without becoming a stuttering mess was a steep mountain climb, but you get used to it. Tartu is probably the polar opposite of New York City, but that extreme change was what I wanted. Now I like chopping wood for fun.
What do you personally find most interesting about the MA study and what area are you planning to specialise in?
I need to work with my hands so even though the MA program is very theoretical it gives a foundation for new thoughts to arise and space to create. You learn about how the disciplines of semiotics spider leg to ecosemiotics, semiotics of art, zoosemiotics, etc. One of the first classes we started with was Biosemiotics. Even though I hadn’t taken biology class since I was probably thirteen years old the concept of Umwelt by Jakob von Uexküll made such an impression on me. It gave me a path for understanding perception in a natural way. Every organism perceives things from their own respective cubbyhole with their own unique set of perceptor tools. Umwelt and Juri Lotman’s notion of semiosphere are the two main theories I think of when I start building an idea.
How can you see your studies in semiotics affecting your professional life from here on in?
I feel like I’m a volcano about to bust from all the information I’ve just learned. As I see it- semiotics is applicable to anything because it’s about understanding perspective and being aware. I’ve been working for a children’s toy company for the past few years and enjoy most making things for people. I figured if I know how people communicate then I can better make things for them, which was the motivation for me to further studying semiotics. In short, semiotics suggests to us that we look at objects contextually and be mindful. As best I can, I’m trying to use semiotics to keep on with my art installation projects and toy innovations. One of them is called Translation is Dialogue, which runs along with the inevitable happenings of continuous transformations and interpretations. Really, the main point of the project was to create a space for people to do and not think so much. That was great to work on because there were so many contributors and in every medium possible. Below is a picture of one interpretation, which was a dance performance, titled Ajakaja created and performed by Kristino Rav, Alejandra Pineda Silva, and Raul Taremaa. (Kristino and Alejandra are my coursemates!) Now I’m working on an interactive sort-of-gamey installation, which will accompany the written and theoretical portion of my master thesis topic, Play Motivation from Zoosemiotics Perspective. I believe that understanding non-human play can be a source of inspiration for allowing us to develop playful situations in our human world. We are animals! I’m not sure what I’ll do or where I’ll be after I graduate, but I feel like I have a clearer approach to innovation, problem solving, and communicating through boundaries and borders. Whoa. Photo of Taremaa and Silva in Akaja taken by Anastasiia Sidielnik
To learn more about Translation is Dialogue…or, better yet, make a translation yourself please go to http://arlene.edicypages.com/translation-is-dialogue. The next showings will most likely be in Estonia and in New York City. To learn more about the English language Masters in Semiotics at the University of Tartu please go to http://www.ut.ee/SOSE/studies/master.html Photo of Arlene taken by Alexander Dobrovodský.