Carlin Wing, Assistant Professor of Media Studies
Carlin Wing’s office in Baxter Hall is neat and spare, with a computer, a single bookshelf, and a desk. Wing, assistant professor of media studies, is one of 11 new tenure-track faculty who joined the College last fall, and she is the first full-time tenure-track professor in Scripps’ media studies program. From her seemingly staid digs in Baxter, she has been pursuing her highly interactive, inventive work on games—specifically, ball-wall games and the concept of “bounce.”
Wing traces her interest in bouncing balls to childhood tennis lessons and, later, squash lessons. The opportunity to play on Harvard University’s championship squash team was one of the deciding factors in her choice to attend as an undergraduate. She majored in art and anthropology, with a concentration in photography, and after graduation she pursued a professional career in squash. Her athletic ambitions were short-lived, however, and she returned to Harvard as a teaching assistant in the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies. There, Wing discovered not only that she enjoyed teaching but that the classroom was a generative place for her own art practice. She went on to earn an MFA in photography and media at the California Institute of the Arts and her PhD in media, culture, and communication at New York University.
As an artist and scholar, Wing is interested in the material and performative aspects of sport and games, and her work focuses broadly on cultural techniques, especially in contexts of play, game, and sport. She draws on global histories and everyday gestures to ask questions about the relationship between knowledge and communication, materiality and mediation, chance and play. Wing is also interested in injury and rehabilitation— the ways in which a game’s elements physically break down during play, from the ball to the racket to the player herself. For one project, Wing examined buffers that are built into game play to modify and mediate interaction, such as the use of rubber in sports equipment and gear.
“I became obsessed with rubber,” she says. “Once you start looking for it, you find it everywhere. It’s protective. I think, as a material, it operates as a fundamental mediator. It’s always in between to make it safe for things to be in contact with each other.”
Since 2008, Wing has been developing the iterative multimedia project Hitting Walls as a way of exploring the history and nature of handball and other ball-wall sports. Presented in Los Angeles and New York, Hitting Walls includes public, participatory activities such as handball clinics, ball-making workshops, and handball matches as well as exhibitions of Wing’s own photographs, experimental videos, sound sculptures, installations, performances, and texts. The project is meant to “trace new arcs through the long, globalized histories of these games, advocating embodied, material ways of describing the world through bounce, rebound, and ricochet.”
In addition to art, history, and theory, Wing’s exploration of bounce also touches on computer science. Since the late 1940s, computer programs have been written to study and re-create how balls bounce, often as a way of testing graphical user interfaces. Modern games, such as Pong and Pokémon Go, often incorporate bouncing balls into play. This line of inquiry—how bounce is simulated in computing spaces— will be part of Wing’s upcoming book.
“It kind of ended up there by accident,” she admits. “It started as a question about why so many video games are ball games. Why Pong? Why so many iterations of Pong? What is it about this fundamental [act of] throwing a thing around and having rackets that hit it or bats that hit it? We have this long history of ball play, and what does it tell us about our culture?”
She sees these sorts of explorations as essential to her discipline. “To me, media studies is interested in thinking about the in-between—the boundaries and connections between ways of knowing and ways of understanding the world,” Wing says.
Ultimately, she feels that her move to Scripps was very serendipitous. As she finished her PhD program in New York, she longed to return to Los Angeles, where she has roots in the art community. The opportunity to teach media studies at the College has allowed her to continue her work as a researcher, artist, and educator alongside peers who are similarly invested in interdisciplinary approaches.
“My main strength is as a generalist and translator, so I really value being around people who are specialized and know something very deeply,” she says. “I can do this kind of connective and translation work, but I also love being here because there are a lot of other people committed to interdisciplinary practice, and that’s a whole other pleasure in itself.”
And so, while her first year at Scripps is coming to a close, the game has just begun.
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