I combine new and traditional media in installations and objects, prints, videos and public works, that suspend and amplify our relationships to each other, and our environments. My work highlights taken for granted categories – such as body, language, vision or power – and works to remember each as a dynamic encounter. Here we engage with and feel the world around us. We experience and practice how concepts and matter cooperatively emerge.
For example, in Body Language (2000-2013), my suite of four interactive installations, participants perform some of the complex relationships between materiality and text. With stuttering, they use their entire bodies to touch and trigger activation points laid out in a Mondrian-styled grid. Each rectangle in the work’s projected image is not filled with primary colors, but animated text and spoken word. The saturation of these virtual buttons creates an inverse relationship: move quickly, and the piece will itself stutter in a barrage of audiovisual verbiage; move carefully, even cautiously – stutter with your body – and both meaning and bodies materialize. We must navigate our arms and hands, legs and feet, or neck and head, laboriously back and forth, on and off, each individual button. It is a stage for intensively rehearsing ‘speaking and listening’ as an embodied matter; we attune ourselves to the forces of language and the physical universe that are always around us, and are asked to ‘move’ with more care. Body Language invites an investigation of, and accountability for, how we perform our bodies, media, concepts and materials. It coincides with my book, Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body as Performance (2013, Gylphi), which takes a close look at the stakes for interactive and digital art, and their implications.
Central to my work are the feedback loops between our experience of the world (via embodiment and perception, for example), our movements within it (through performance and performative acts), and our understandings of it (in language and signs). I want to foster greater dialogue around these complicated systems and their relationships to affect and meaning-making.
In my Compressionism series of prints (2006 and ongoing), I strap a desktop scanner, laptop and custom-made battery pack to my body, and perform images into existence. I might scan in straight, long lines across tables, tie the scanner around my neck and swing over flowers, do pogo-like gestures over bricks, or just follow the wind over water lilies in a pond. The dynamism between my body, technology, and the landscape is transformed into beautiful and quirky renderings, which are then produced as archival prints. This series follows the trajectory of Impressionist painting, through Surrealism and beyond Postmodernism, but rather than citing crises of representation, reality, or simulation, I focus on engaging the relations between and around all three. I am currently (2014) building a sub-aqueous imaging system, so I can produce these images as a scuba diver on a live coral reef. Here I will fold not only time and space into the printed images, but also the impacts of water and land, life and non-life, that we perform with every day: as individuals, and as a people.
Both Compressionism and my interactive works are ‘per-formed’ to challenge notions of a ‘pre-formed’ world, or sense, or meaning. By enfolding the potentials of process and external influence into my art, I bring to the fore many of the unnoticed material and conceptual agencies that play a role in continuing to make what is. ‘We’ are a part of an intricate and ongoing ecology; we are always more than the boundaries of what we know, or feel, or make.
My Sentimental Constructions (2007 and ongoing) began as large-scale, site-conditioned interventions made of minimal materials and performed in public spaces. These are architectural structures made of rope, fabric, or mosquito netting, for example, built to scale and enacted with a group of collaborators. Each twists the idea of ‘public place’ by its double activation: first, through the volunteers who stretch the forms outward and around them; and second, through the communal play of the onlookers-turned-participants, who give the piece an/other performative turn. Sentimental Constructions have been performed in Croatia, South Africa, Canada, the US, and the UK, where the most recent installations were workshopped along with dozens of international participants – a collaborative re-making and re-defining of both ‘public’ and ‘space.’ The series continues in collaboration with artist-philosopher Erin Manning as Weather Patterns (2014), where we are currently experimenting with making several miniature tornadoes of spice (gales of mustard, storms of turmeric, etc). Each responds to small movements, flailing with the wind of passersby or the opening and closing of doors. The animated seasonings also leave small, but piling and lasting, remnants in and around the gallery space, or on our skin. Here, as in most interactions, movement and transformation are sensed, but not necessarily noted in the moment of their passing.
For Doin’ my part to lighten the load (2008), I intervened in rigid political identities with similarly minor environmental shifts. I convinced well-known arts critic Sean O’Toole, editor of Art South Africa magazine, to give up any use of electricity for 24 hours. In the dark hours of the evening, I offered paid South African ‘laborers’ – car or security guards, house painters, and/or tile-layers that could be solicited on the street – to assist him as needed; they were armed with hand-crank generators and small light bulbs. The title is itself a reference to ‘load shedding,’ the not uncommon practice of cutting off electric current on certain lines when demand becomes greater than Eskom can handle. Here I attempted to bring to light structures of power in post-Apartheid South Africa: black and white, rich and poor, artist and critic, on and off ‘the grid,’ among others. O’Toole and I spent weeks debating the rules for this event, where he asked about everything from his safety to the art work’s merit. In the end, the night wound up as a fun and honest discussion of the aforementioned relationships between all those involved, and the ‘work’ lives as vestiges of their performance: photos, notes, generators and bulbs.
Given Time (2010) stages reciprocity, and generosity, as potent forces for creation and change. It is a mixed reality installation that simultaneously activates and performs two permanently logged-in Second Life avatars, each forever and only seen by and through the other. They hover in mid-air, almost completely still, gazing into one another’s interface. Viewers encounter this networked partnership as a diptych of large-scale and facing video projections in a real world gallery, both exhibiting a live view of one avatar, as perceived by the other. These custom-designed and life-sized lovers are hand-drawn in subtly animated charcoal, graphite and pastel. The audience is invited to physically walk between them; they’re able to hear and see them breathing, witness their hair blowing in the wind, pick up faint sounds such as rushing water or birds crying out from the surrounding simulated environment. Here, an intimate exchange between dual, virtual bodies is transformed into a public meditation on human relationships, bodily mortality, and time’s inevitable flow.
Wikipedia Art, with Scott Kildall (2009), questions structures of power and knowledge in the Age of the Internet. Here we wrote about, and then initiated, an art work composed on Wikipedia, and thus art that anyone can edit. Through a social and creative feedback loop of publish-cite-transform that I call ‘performative citations,’ the piece began as an intervention, turned into an object, and was killed and resurrected on the Wikipedia site several times over. Wikipedians, artists, critics, bloggers, geeks and journalists debated fact, theory, and opinion via hundreds of sites and publications worldwide, each community continuously transforming what the work was and did and meant simply through their writing and talking about it. Our more recent Tweets in Space (2012) sent messages from participants worldwide towards a habitable exoplanet 22 light years away. This project appeals to wonder and curiosity, while amplifying the potency of social media dialog: the shallowness of 140 characters at a time, and the depth created by thousands of users conversing all at once.
In Distill Life (2009 and ongoing), printmaker Jessica Meuninck-Ganger and I approach old and new media as continuous, conceptual-material formations. We permanently mount translucent prints and drawings directly on top of video screens, creating ‘moving images on paper.’ We incorporate technologies and aesthetics from traditional printmaking – including woodblock, silk screen, etching, lithography, photogravure, etc – with the technologies and aesthetics of contemporary digital, video, and networked art, to explore images as multidimensional. Our juxtaposition of anachronistic and disparate methods, materials and content – print and video, paper and electronics, real and virtual – enables novel approaches to understanding each. Our newest in the series (2014) will be what we are calling Portrait Landscapes – subtly moving video-drawings of Milwaukee working class machinists in their work environments.
And my work with metalsmith Yevgeniya Kaganovich combines disparate ideas and materials to invite new or alternative perspectives. Falling Still (2010) utilizes 200 cement-cast feathers as individual pixels to create a larger image across 6 planes. Each of these sculptures has been hand-poured into molds of actual feathers, exhibiting finely detailed quills on one side, and flat concrete surfaces on the other. They hang from the ceiling via discrete fishing lines, swinging, twisting, and turning as viewers move around the 8 x 15 x 4 foot installation area. From all perspectives but one, the work floats between 1-dimensional lines, 2-dimensional planes and 3-dimensional pixels. View it exactly perpendicular to its planes, and all the work’s elements cohere into a bit-mapped image of a body, leaping through the air. While Falling Still is itself suspended between movement and stasis, it also moves and arrests us. The installation directs us in and around incongruous objects, through an improbable image, and across multiple dimensions. My second Kaganovich collaboration, Strange Vegetation (2011), is an installation of inflatable, latex, plant-like sculptures, which slowly inhale and exhale in a breathing cycle that gradually distorts each figure over time. The piece transforms its site from museum space to psuedo-biological habitat, and suggests that all environments are (a) vibrant matter with the capacity for movement, change, and agency over time.
Writing and lecturing are integral parts of my practice as an artist. In addition to an undergraduate degree in design and Masters in studio art, I hold a hybrid humanities and engineering PhD in art and technology, and continue to write articles, books, chapters, reviews and artist viewpoints for various mainstream and academic publications. I am fundamentally a researcher, who thrives on teaching, learning and making work as an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as a part of my city’s vibrant arts and community organizations, and through the various online and translocal collectives I am a part of. My writing, studios and seminars, like my art, combine traditional art historical trajectories with contemporary understandings of relationality, participation, and media, in order to bring new insight to arts production and criticism.
My work seeks to infold our unfolding relationships with the world, and with one another. I invite viewers to explore, to embody, to re-imagine and to re-make not only what is, but what could be.