michael naimark

Memorial Service
U C Berkeley Faculty Club, May 2000

Memorial for Bernard Q. Nietschmann

Michael Naimark

May 7 2000

If I were to say I work with new media technologies doing art projects and working in Silicon Valley research labs for the past 20 years, you may ask what am I doing here?

On the surface Barney and I lived in different worlds, but we were friends and colleagues and stayed in touch. That is what Barney was about.

Barney and I met in 1971 in Ann Arbor, where we co-founded the Future Worlds program, he as a young professor and I as a young student, both ready to change things. Future Worlds became the second largest undergraduate class at the University of Michigan for four years, with many good people involved. It was Barney who fronted it.

Our paths seemingly diverged over the next twenty years — I first moved to MIT and he moved here — but we stayed as friends and kept in touch. He urged me to visit the Ifugao, a tribal group in the Philippines, when I was doing long-term computer research at Atari in 1983. I helped him place an article in CoEvolution Quarterly on Nicaragua’s Other War in 1984. I published an essay of his in Wide Angle, a film journal I was guest editing with Widd Schmidt, on landscape and place in 1993. He wrote a letter of support for me, as a member of the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society, for an art project I produced with Interval Research and UNESCO.

Over the past five years, we converged back. My art and research work with cameras and virtual environments became more political; Barney’s political work became more high-tech and media-oriented, not to mention more artful, such as the aesthetically strong Maya Atlas. In the last months, Barney was calling me to offer help on my current work with webcams.

Barney had a crazy streak, in the best sense, pushing boundaries. One never knew how serious he was. I partook in some of this. Like locking 500 students in an auditorium for several hours. Or having a dozen pet African cockroaches (I cockroach-sat for them one summer.) Sometimes I’d get phone calls out of the blue, and his voice would say CHANNEL SEVEN NOW and hang up. He tried to convince me once that if you’re being held up by a street criminal, the most effective solution is to puke on them. Once I heard him make a reservation at a Chinese restaurant under the name "Kahn, G Kahn."

I made the very dumb mistake once, while on a boat with Barney off the Rio San Juan in Nicaragua, of saying "middle of nowhere." He hit the ceiling. "What is nowhere?!? There is NO nowhere!"

I kinda thought he’d be into Web and email hacking by now.

After all our attention to the future many years ago, there was special significance spending time with Barney on New Year’s Day 2000. He made it. He knew it.

Like for many people here, Barney is a serious role model for me. I can only strive to be like him to others.