Hypermodern Essay Spring 2004

Three sets of magnetic letters on a refrigerator; that was my first introduction to adaptive technology. Whoever invented those little pieces of shiny multicolored plastic with magnets embedded should be given a genius prize. Every morning, my mother, before I could have my breakfast, would make me sound things out and read some sentences before moving on with her day. She would ask me to make a few words, so I would shuffle the letters into a big mass and then pull out with my hands the ones I needed. So I learned to read, spell, and talk before I went to school. This daily regimen set me up for a wonderful experience at kindergarten, or so she thought.

The fact of the matter was, I couldn’t write. I was placed in the remedial writing groups, and was frustrated with my lack of lucidity on paper, and felt bad because I kept getting low marks on penmanship. I knew exactly what I wanted to express, and I couldn’t get it from my brain to the paper fast enough, something was getting stuck on the way out.

These frustrations continued for three years until it was time to learn how to type. My mom (a musician and a photographer) and my dad (a professional dancer) are both artists. At the time in the early 80’s, having a computer around wasn’t that practical for them, nor very common. My first experience with the QWERTY keyboard was at school. Initially it was even slower than writing by hand: over time the pure physicality and economy of motion, pushing the keys on that beige Apple II, afforded success. Never have I learned a skill that has changed my academic trajectory so much.

I see the keys on the keyboard as analogs to the magnetic letters on the refrigerator. Moving the letters around on the fridge was akin to the subconscious tappings on a keyboard…a cloud of letters to manufacture a set of ideas: a gift of expression, a way of forming vision and thought with a little help from a device that has the ability to make transmission of an idea more lucid and simple.

This is a common occurrence, where creative individuals are working to maximize the potential of the human being; be it functionally, or artistically, the two are by no means mutually exclusive. It is in this environment I want to research and create.

As an undergraduate, I explored the realm of psychology, technology and its relationship to art. My studies culminated in a thesis exhibition “Priorities” in which installation, audition, and digitalia received top billing. The show took place both on the Internet and in the gallery, where the idea of real-time was confounded. A twelve-minute video loop was broadcast on the web and simultaneously projected in the gallery. Images and text were composited with the signifiers of live TV, in order to give the look of a newscast. The imagery consisted of a collaborative remix performance where spontaneously composed digital music and analog signals were amalgamated for sonic output. The majority of viewers did not engage with the video for the whole twelve minutes, thus their occasional glances afforded the assumption that the video was indeed live.

When one first encounters the installation “Love Box”, muffled sounds emerge from a monolithic black wooden structure. Upon further investigation one sees the sign “Push button for love.” on the gallery wall. At this moment, directly behind the viewer is a door into the box. Within, a single chair is present that houses a force feedback paddle, which in turn is wired to an amplified bass track. This track is modeled after the Kinsey curve of an orgasm, that, when coupled with the 70’s pimp-kitch and voice over, leads the viewer to question the role of the body in relation to auto-eroticism, technology, and their sexuality.

In stark contrast to the plush interior of the box is the austere installation “Chatting”. Two laptops sit on opposite sides of a table and have a dialog over Net Meeting. As the audio is emitted through the speakers, it is immediately captured by a microphone and sent back to the source. The sonic loop, combined with the centrally located, coiled crossover cable alludes to the futility of having such a conversation in close proximity; while the audio content references the coldness and remoteness of first encounter in a chat room: age, sex, location?

Digitalia, or the digital-genitalia series, is the result of using a hand held scanner and having a partner map the genitals. The images that are obtained are converted and compressed to the gif format, and then printed the same height as the artist to expose the pixels. The sufficiently ambiguous images allude to the secret urges of the technophile, and the merging of machine with the performative sexual act

Research and coursework in cognitive science and perception directly informs my artistic practice. Presently I have found it difficult to have the same scientific engagement with my graduate student peers as I had at Cornell, because their own interests often lie in more formal and art-historical practices. Where I have lost the clinical and empirical dialog, I have gained incredible insight in the philosophical and metaphorical implications that technology has on art making and vice versa. Through the discussions I’ve had with professors and peers in relation to Perec, Benjamin, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Leibniz, Nietzsche, and others, I have been exposed to myriad theoretical and philosophical underpinnings, which have given rise to a better understanding of the role of art and technology in present society.

In the frame of the traditional art school, I see among my peers a certain attitude where the “genius” of the artist is master to the insight of a designer or engineer, and those who utilize technology to create are somehow less gifted. I aspire to generate work in a place that is liberated from that pretense in which all work together in an environment similar to the Bauhaus; where free exchange and mutual respect is paramount.

During my tenure at the San Francisco Art Institute, I have investigated a more internal and conceptual relationship with technology that has manifested itself in two ongoing projects. The first is a collection of videos in which I perform specifically for the camera rather than an audience, thereby creating a distance between self and the individual being watched. “Yuk” maps Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief from On Death and Dying onto a single man’s internal struggle. The work is autobiographical yet universal in that it speaks to the joyous, pathetic, loving, and humorous: essentially the human condition that we all share.

Social/psychological space, the anonymous gift, and perceptual affect are all addressed in the project entitled “Free Memory” where the boundaries between literal physical memory on disk, and ephemeral human thought are confounded. Initially a street performance piece, 1.44mb floppy disks are given away that contain 100 compressed images from my life story. Essentially I enter the recipient’s memory as the man who gave them the disk, as well as the content on the disk. Presently, I am working on making large scale ink jet prints that deal with the same issues; making 5kb (or smaller) images that will have a considerable perceptual affect. My knowledge of compression technologies is limited, and this aspect of my education will be greatly strengthened by the resources of UH in regards to computer science. Likewise, being enmeshed in a dialog with the faculty and peer group of the art department will definitely assist in achieving this goal.

Right as the chapter is closing on my career at SFAI, there has been a substantial administrative change, and an investment by the school into technology. I have endeavored to increase my skill set further by taking full advantage of the new academic offerings: I will learn aspects of MAX/MSP and Jitter in a new class offered in Digital Intervention. In addition, I have been selected to participate in the NASA Space Grant Community Education program, where I will be honing my skills as a teacher of art and technology in relation to space.

Most importantly, a diverse conglomeration of artists has mobilized under the name of Artech and takes over a small studio once a week. Those who have come together (many of whom are international students) possess assorted views of why they are there…some treat it as a work night, while others as a forum to have questions answered by those who know a bit more about coding. The only requirement is to have an investment in creation with science/technology as a vehicle, or an inspiration. This insurgence exhilarates me! I feel most comfortable, excited, and accepted on these nights where I’ve gotten a small taste of what it would be like to be part of the plenum.

Professionally, I want to continue making artwork where technology constitutes part of a greater body that transcends the media, while investigating aspects of memory, emotion, sexuality, affect, and function. It is indeed a challenge to keep up with the rapid pace of change, and I am eager to share that experience with my peers. The successful navigation necessarily depends on a unique approach to the problems we will be faced with in the coming years: where learning is communal and bolstered by some of the most brilliant minds in the world. Sharing in that unique experience is a goal I aspire to attain, and I know I have the skills and determination to excel in such an invigorating and demanding environment.