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Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

Hans Tammen: Cream of the Crop

In Art, Feature, Interview on May 26, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Hans Tammen – Deputy Director @ Harvestworks


Digital sound artist, Hans Tammen, has been a musician for more than 3 decades. With a background in classical and rock guitar, Tammen is the Deputy Director at Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center in New York City.

Founded in 1977, Harvestworks is a non-profit organization created by artists for artists.  On its website the organization states that it has helped “a generation of artists create new works using technology.”  Saying also that its mission is to “support the creation and presentation of art works achieved through the use of new and evolving technologies….to create an environment where artists can make work inspired and achieved by electronic media.”

In his official capacity at Harvestworks, Tammen performs the oversight of all projects related to Max/MSP/Jitter and Physical Computing, also managing the organization’s education program and the audio-video studios.

Tammen is the conductor of Third Eye Orchestra and he is the creator of the ENDANGERED GUITAR – a hybrid guitar/software instrument, for which he received a 2009 Fellowship from the New York Foundation of the Arts (NYFA) in the category Digital/Electronic Arts.

Tammen’s own works have been presented throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, Russia, India and all acorss Europe.  And for his tremendous contributions toward breaking new ground in the world of sound, Tamen has received innumerable awards, felloswhips and residencies.

Hans Tammen: Cream of the Crop

An interview with the Deputy Director of Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center

by Max Eternity


Max Eternity (ME):  Hi Hans, welcome to AD Mag

Hans Tammen (HT): Hi Max!

ME:  Until a few weeks ago I had not heard of Harvestworks.  Liz Taylor, one of your interns contacted me after reading an interview I conducted with artist and art instructor, Rob O’neill, informing me that she had just heard of AD Mag.  The magazine has been around for 3 years, but your organization has been around much longer than that?

HT:  Yes, since 1977…

ME:  This is a New York organization, but I’m guessing you have a national outreach?

HT: And international. Besides our regular US-artists we have many coming from abroad to create their project, or study in one of our training programs. I recently checked, and we have for example at least one artist from every country in South America, um… well… except those like Guyana and Suriname. But with around 250 artists per year working with us, that’s probably not that much of a surprise.

ME:  So exactly, what is the mission of Harvestworks…clearly you’re not into farming?

HT:  Are we not? We regularly get the “Eastern Livestock” magazine sent to us for free, and proudly display that in our magazine rack (smiles and laughs). But in a broad sense, we help artists create their projects involving technology.

Since Gerry Lindahl and Greg Kramer founded this organisation in 1977, the technology  has changed a lot over the last 30 years. In the 70s it was all about analog synthesis, you could go to Harvestworks and rent an expensive Buchla 100 analog synth to create your piece. Later we had an audio recording and editing studio, plus a video editing suite. We still operate them, because after all the production work is done, you still need to record your audio piece, or edit your video, right?

However, in the last ten years the majority of our work is about interactive art, which for us means programming in Max/MSP and Jitter, Pd, Supercollider or similar programming languages, to facilitate the artist’s ideas. We also work on a lot of hardware-related issues, like building electronic instruments or track people’s movements through sensors to affect an interactive installation.

Another big change is the increase in our training programs. Since many more people have access to these technologies today, they still have the need to learn these. Around two-thirds of all our artist’s projects are created as part of an intensive training session.

ME:  And, your role at Harvestworks?

HT: I’m bringing everybody together… I just enjoy talking with people about their projects, and making sure everything works out well, and the project stays at an affordable price. Like… the artist comes in, we go through all the details, and I connect them to the engineer or programmer who’d work best for them. Sure the engineer has to have the skill to facilitate the project, but this is ore about bringing the artist together with a like-minded engineer-artist. Someone who can understand where you’re coming from. If you want to create your own VJing system, you’re better off working with someone who does interactive live video, too. We’re all artists here, too…

We’re at our best when our lab room is packed, and all of a sudden people take interest at each other’s projects, and start working together. The intern with the Certificate Student, or the Artist In Residence with the regular client. It’s just great to see when the intern from Switzerland and one of our Artist In Residence find a common ground, and ooops… they’re performing at Miami Basel in Florida.

ME: Right, that’s the beauty of collaboration. the outcome is usually quite surprising.  It seems as well that the organization has a commitment to provide services at every step of the way.  You’re not just a recording studio–you do much more than that?

HT: The recording studio (as well as the video editing suite) are meanwhile only a minor part of our work. In the last ten years we came to specializing in interactive programming – for installations, audio or video works, or custom made instruments. We create many museum or gallery installation works that react to the movement of the audience by using camera motion tracking. We build custom instruments for electronic musicians, or program software for live sound processing. If you want to track the flight paths of butterflies in an aviary to use this information to make sounds, we’re the place to do it.

Artists can also learn this at Harvestworks, we’re running numerous classes, and also the Certificate Program, you can study on your project in a one-on-one situation, which seems to work well for people from out of town, or internationally.

Tobaron Waxman’s “Block of Ice” @ Harvestworks

ME: Now I know you have many exhibitions ongoing at Harvestworks, but is the something that comes to mind first in recent events–a show that was perhaps unusually inventive?

HT: That’s a hard one… there are so many. Maybe Tobaron Waxman’s “Block of Ice”, his brainwaves controlling  images downloaded from the internet, put into a collage and projected onto a block of ice? Shana Moulton’s and Nick Hallett’s Whispering Pines, an electronic chamber opera with extensive camera motion tracking to control realtime animation projected onto the performer? Jeff Thompson’s motion tracking of butterflies’ flight paths turned into music?

ME;  Do you have a program(s) specifically for youth?

HT: Yes, we try. Teens can learn these technologies over the summer, so we offer camps for making interactive art, but also Podcasting – which is just another name for learning recording and editing, web skills and some video, too.

ME:  And, could you talk about your residency program.  Who is this open to–any artist?

Fine Kwiatkowski performs with Hans Tammen

HT:  Well, just for artists who reside in the US, but then for all of them. We have a residency program since 1983 I think, and have between 10 and 15 artists a year who receive technical assistance by our programmers and engineers to create their project, plus a stipend. Their final work is then presented in one of our festivals, or presentation series.

ME:  So I see information on your site about Jitter.  What exactly is Jitter–like Twitter?  And while you’re at it, might you also talk about MAX/MSP.  How is that used, to do what exactly for those who may not know?

HT:  Both are part of the same software package, it is a programming language for the arts that’s around since the end of the 80s. The difference comes down to Max/MSP is the audio part, and Jitter is the part that handles the visuals. It is very powerful and complex, but since you program by connecting boxes with patch cords, it is much more intuitive than the usual typing of cryptic code.

Most of our interactive art projects are programmed in Max/MSP/Jitter. It’s just the tool that allows for the widest range of applications for us, across all artist’s needs. We do some projects in other tools, but that’s the case when the project can be done in a software that specializes in things the artist’s project requires. In that case you won’t have to reinvent the wheel again, but on the other hand you may end up in a situation where you can’t find fine tune a project as much as you need.

Hans Tammen conducts the Third Eye Orchestra

ME:  What are some highlights lined up for Summer and Fall–any announcements?

HT:  Not sure…  maybe our event “New instruments for Improvisation and Experimental Approaches” on June 28? That is a one-day presentation/panel/performance event with 4 artists who discuss how their practice as improvisers, sound artists and experimental musicians lead to inventing their own tools, and how these inventions in turn influenced their musical performance techniques. Our “Synesthesia” workshop series in June, where artists learn how to drive their visuals through audio, and their audio through visuals? We are also very excited about our three DigiCamp workshops for teens in July, where they learn various digital tools for animation and so on.

ME:  Hans, thanks for taking the time to speak with me.

HT:  It has been a pleasure!


Visit Harvestworks here and Hans Tammen’s website here.  Tammen’s Youtube page can be found here, and a 3-year archive of AD MAG articles and interviews are found here.


Qian Li : Digital Culture

In Art, Feature, Interview on May 13, 2010 at 4:19 pm


Born and raised in China, Qian Li is an artist who conjures surreal, liquid dreamscapes by employing a wealth of media.  She blends cultural heritage from her ancestry with contemporary anthropologies to create a “total art” that speaks to the urgency of the present.  Li works with traditional Chinese rice paper painting, digital video, multi-media installation and large-format digital printing.  And of her “Calm Before the Storm”  digital print series, she says “They depict the moments in my dreams before disasters happen; that split-second of peace, romance, beauty and desire, which will be replaced by endless chaos, violence, war and natural disaster.”

Li studied at the Academy of Art and Design at Tsinghua University in Beijing, later earning her MFA, at Umass Dartmouth.  And while much of her work is abstract, Li has also used her art and film-making skills in a variety of collaborations, which address harships associated with inner-city living.

Qian Li has been exhibited at MOCA Cleveland, the Boston Cyber Arts Festival, SIGGRAPH and other national and international venues.

Qian Li : Digital Culture

An Interview by Max Eternity

Max Eternity (ME): Hi Qian, welcome to AD Mag

Qian Li (QL): Hi Max, thank you for having me.

ME: There’s much to talk about, because you have created different types of artwork in many forms. But first let me ask, where are you living and working now and how long have you been an artist?

QL: I born and raised in China. I came to US in 1999 and currently living at Cleveland, OH. I start art training since junior high. But after graduating from art college, I worked as a graphic designer for many years. I started creating art in 2004.


ME: You work with many types of media, including a group of mixed-media paintings you created on rice paper, rendering them as large-format digital prints. The first piece I saw on your website is called “Storm.” Could you explain the process of creating the piece and why you decided to give it that name?

QL: The digital print “Storm” is from the series of print “The Calm before the Storm.” They depict the moments in my dreams before disasters happen; that split-second of peace, romance, beauty and desire, which will be replaced by endless chaos, violence, war and natural disaster. These large-scale prints were created by utilizing Chinese traditional paint on rice paper, digital photography, and digital manipulation. They were printed on large canvas or paper.

Quiet, ambient sounds will play in the background, creating a multi-sensory environment to elicit a strong sense of an unsettlingly peaceful moment.

ME: Another work you create with the same process is called Core. To me it looks like a small sun, or a burst of chi energy. How many pieces are in the Core series–tell me about #2 and #5.

QL: All those digital print are inspired by my dreams. I see dreams as a more truthful and vivid representation of reality; a study of the human psyche.

My childhood memories, including frequent trips to the hospital and growing up in China during a turbulent period, continue to influence my dreams. These dreams are often a desperate world, full of pain and anxiety. They are largely driven by the desire to love and be loved, and the desire for peace. “Core” is also part of series of “The Calm Before the Storm.” There is about 5 pieces named as Core.

“Core #1”

ME: So Qian, you were born in China, and now you live in the US. However you went to school in China before coming here. Could you talk about what it was like growing up in Asia—where did you learn about art as a child?

QL: I grew up in a beautiful city on China’s east coast called Tsingtao. I was fascinated by the natural beauty, and dreamed one day I’d become a painter or zoo worker. Luckily there is an art school located inside a mountain near where I grow up. It is a quite and unique place exclude from outside world. There, I studied traditional drawing and painting every afternoon through most of my middle and high school studies. After that I went to Beijing to study at The Academy of Arts & Design of Tsinghua University, which used to be The Central Academy of Art and Design.

Because of the influence of Asian art, I have adopted the principle of “expressing the spirit through form”. In art college, I had a great interest in Chinese philosophy and Buddhist art. I have traveled to Dunhuang and Tibet to study their art, also attempting to understand their spirituality–visually and philosophically. All that has served as a foundation for my work.

“Core #2”

ME: What made you decided to move to the US? Was it for educational reasons?

QL: Yes, I was originally exposed to new art mediums through the internet, becoming interested in how Western artists used cutting edge technology in art creation. I came to the United States in 1999 to study at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth for their Electronic Imaging Program.

ME: So, how many different types of media are you working with?

QL: Video, animation, installation, painting, photography, and digital print. Recently I start to use sculpture as part of my installation.

ME:  You stay close to your source—your foundation—in all the different types of media employed.  I’m looking now at a video you created, which has the painterly elements of your prints for its background.  It fluxes and flows gently—digital dots that dance around in a lullaby to the sound of Son Lux.  The piece is called “Epilogue.”

QL: Epilogue was inspired by a dream; it is the life story of two humanized dots discovering love, friendship, and sacrifice while pursuing a dream.  The piece intends to evoke personal memories that are emotionally tied to the viewer’s own experiences. The visuals are strongly influenced by traditional Chinese painting. You can see here the connection with my digital print STORM.

ME:  Yes, I do see that.  But you’ve also done some very tangible films about social concerns, like “The Bus Stops Here” speaking to the issue of urban renewal.  I sense both a physical story and a spiritual story?

QL: I live in the middle of a diverse neighborhood, and have gotten to meet lots of great neighbors since moving here. We all believe in this community and the future of the region, and want to be involved in making the transition to a better place to live. The bus stops featured in the short film, two of which are now at the center of the Gordon Square arts district, have become the first public visual art forms in the neighborhood, and symbolize not only the transformational power of art, but a turning point for this evolving area. I thought that through this documentary I could expose my local area to a greater audience.

ME:  So let’s look at an installation that you created called “Transformations.”   Earlier you mentioned that you were adding sculpture to your installations, is that what I see here, a combination of video and sculpture?

QL: Yes, it is a multi-sensory mixture of sculpture, video, 2-dimensional prints, and music.

ME:  In the installation “Dawn of Light”, you projected video on sheets of fabric to create a space of meditation.  Can you talk about that project?

QL:  I was raised in a Buddhist family, and upon traveling to a temple in Tibet to study their art I became fascinated by their mural paintings.  This experience continues to influence my art, even after studying digital media in the US.  I like to believe my work combines the best of what I’ve learned in western and eastern cultures.

ME:  If you were asked to describe yourself as a person—an artist—what would you say?

QL: I am an interdisciplinary artist with roots in both Eastern and Western art working in video, installation and painting. My work is inspired from my dreams – focusing on the human’s desire to love and to be loved, and for peace.

ME:  Qian, thanks for taking the time to chat with me.

QL: My pleasure.

“Air #19


Additional images of Qian Li’s artwork can be found in the AD MAG Artist Galleries, and a full 3-year archive of AD MAG articles and interviews can be found here.  Visit Qian Li’s website here.