of the Week
Artist, musician, writer, teacher…even
video gamer, Cynthia has worn all of these hats in her years of
involvement with technology. However one might not have predicted
it early in her career. Then she was busy majoring in Electrical
Engineering and seemingly setting a course straight towards a world
of only computers, microchips and microprocessors. But she was not
about to have a degree in Engineering define her career goals. Cynthia
had other plans.
She entered the Electrical Engineering
department at the University of the Andes in Bogota Colombia with
determination and a sheer curiosity to "find out how things worked".
This eagerness to learn and experiment became the foundation of
Cynthia's involvement with technology, applying it to other interests
in her life and career.
This was truly evident in her time in Bogota,
where she not only devoted her time to study, but also worked on
improved educational technology tools for low-income children. She
also began teaching electronics and programming to "non-engineers"
and emerging artists. To this day, she continues to share her knowledge
and experiences with art students at New York University, and faculty
at Columbia University exploring new ways to integrate technology
into their projects.
As if all of that didn't take up her time
already, Cynthia has also submerged herself in personal projects,
creating art pieces in a variety of mediums, including digital video,
installation, interactive multimedia, sound art, print design and
photography. She is a multimedia artist in the truest sense, bringing
her artistic and technical expertise to collaborations with artists,
poets and musicians around the world, such as an electroacoustic
concert with composer Ricardo Escallon, and an interactive sound
installation with Juan Reyes, exhibited at the Modern Museum of
Art in Bogota. Her research in the positive potential of merging
technology with art and education can be found in various articles
and papers presented in conferences worldwide.
We are glad to have Cynthia as our Girl
Geek of the Week. Her ability to take technology out of the box
and make it fit into her world and her mission in life and career,
be it art, music or education is a wonderful inspiration for women
and girls who are turned off by the rigidity that is often associated
with hi-tech computing, electronics and technology.
Tell us more about yourself and your background
I did my undergraduate studies in Electrical
Engineering because I wanted to understand how "things" worked.
Although I have never had a full-time job as an engineer, this background
has allowed me to have a clear grasp on different technologies,
and a fluency to learn other new media. Soon after graduating from
Engineering School I started teaching electronics to art students,
which stepped me into a new world of technology as an artistic medium.
I currently combine my passion for teaching and interest in new
media at Columbia University's Center for New Media Teaching and
Learning. I have also continued developing my own portfolio through
collaborations and individual art practice with new technologies.
When did you first
discover your love or obsession with technology and new media?
My first hands-on experience with technology
was programming in Basic on my Atari 400 when I was around twelve
years old. With Electrical Engineering I studied technology in a
very scientific and mathematical way. It was in its application
to the arts that I would say I discovered I loved technology and
Do you find it difficult learning about technology?
I have always enjoyed mathematics, and therefore
have developed a scientific way of problem-solving. As one of my
professors at NYU said, learning about technology isn't necessarily
learning new skills, but the skill of how to solve problems. I consider
myself fluent in this area, and therefore a quick learner of new
Were you encouraged as a child to learn more
about and participate in science, math and more technical-oriented
When I was growing up I was fortunate to have
encouraging environments at home and at school. At home I was motivated
to work on the things that most excited me; and at school there
were special programs and activities for certain disciplines. Although
I was not encouraged specifically towards the sciences, that was
my natural tendency, and therefore supported by my parents and teachers.
As a multimedia artist, share with us how
you became interested in art and when did you decided to start integrating
new media and technology in your work?
My undergraduate thesis for Electrical Engineering
was in Computer Music. Though from a programming side, that was
my first incursion into technology for the arts. I then started
teaching electronics to art students, and was fascinated by the
work they did - non-technical applications of things I had learned
in Engineering school were exciting. I then decided to come to New
York University for my masters in interactive media so I, too, could
explore these non-technical applications of new media. Thanks to
my fluency in the technical side of things, I was able to focus
on experimenting with new media, and therefore started developing
an artistic vocabulary with technology.
Did you have a mentor in the field or anyone
who inspired you to use technology in your work?
My thesis advisor, Juan Reyes, brought me into
the world of Computer Music. I thank him for inspiring me to use
technology in artistic applications.
How much of mentoring is important to women
I believe mentoring is important, but not only
for women. I think some women do need other female role models to
follow within technology, because there is still a feeling of men
dominating the field. Although I do not relate to a feeling of exclusion,
I know of women who have not studied engineering, for example, because
of the fear of being a minority.
What do you think we need to do to get more
women interested in technology?
Sites and articles like this one are helpful.
I think the presence of technology in the arts has also created
a big push for women, who come in from the artistic side, to immerse
themselves in technology.
What advice can you give to girls or women
who are just beginning to learn about technology and new media?
When I have taught technology (conceptually and
applied) I encourage my students to work on projects close to their
interests. I, particularly see this with women, who, if working
on content close to their heart, will become well versed in the
new skill they are learning.
What do you do when you aren't working and
thinking about the next project?
I try to spend as much time away from technology
as possible. I like to spend time outside, as well as visit museums
and galleries and see what others are working on.
What are your current or future projects?
I'm currently in the presentation phase of http://vniverse.com.
Stephanie Strickland and I are working hard to present our project
in as many venues as we can. Future projects include a sound anti-war
poster (with http://drinkink.org),
a new interactive installation I'm calling "Whispering Words," and
a series of small reactive sculptures.
Any favorite websites, tech tools or cool
devices to recommend?
For anyone interested in interactive interfaces
(objects or installations), I recommend you check out the BX-24
- a simple-to-use microcontroller, http://www.basicx.com/.
I also like my site http://cynthialawson.com
Do you consider yourself
No. I have never liked the negative connotations
that come with the word geek: antisocial, unattractive, unidirectional.
I would call myself a Tech-y more than a geek.