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Kenneth Huff: Natural | Digital

In Art, Feature, Interview on August 31, 2010 at 7:39 am

“2001.1”

Having exhibited his artwork in more than 350 shows internationally, Kenneth Huff is one of the world’s most renowned digital creatives–redefining the word fabulous.  With an amassed portfolio of naturalistic permutations in prints, sculptures and time-based works, Huff explores organic forms found in the natural world—the ever present beauty in everyday surroundings.  Of his sumptuous signature style, he says “Organic structures harkens back to the main point of my work–patterns in nature.  Why I create is not about the technology, it’s about the image.”

Huff operates a website called Organik, and a blog named It Goes Boing. There, he documents a chronology of works created, also sharing insight into his process.  Reflecting on the intent of creative motivations, on the site he writes “From the first time a finger traces along the spiral of a seashell, our lives are permeated with the joy of discovery. Forms, patterns and experiences are stored in our memories and become part of the fundamental cognitive framework through which we identify and classify the world.”

Huff currently has an exhibition going at the Deep Space Center @ ARS Electronica and earlier this summer, he was commissioned by the Salina Arts and Humanities Commission to create projection-based installations in the downtown area of Salina, Kansas.  And in my interview with Huff, he spoke about the project—how it came about, and we also talked about his role as a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

He shared with me his love for language and words, and his visionary aspiration for creative possibilities in the not-to-distant future.

“2005.1”

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Kenneth Huff

Natural | Digital

By Max Eternity

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Max Eternity (ME): More than a decade ago I became aware of the naturalistic aspects of the digital realm, but some find this a difficult concept to grasp?

Kenneth Huff (KH):  I don’t.  The way I’ve always approached my work, it’s inspired by nature. The medium is in service and to the intent of my work.  It’s never been an issue with my work.

ME: Your website is called Organik, spelled with a “k” on the end.  Why the name and the spelling, and what’s the significance of incorporating organic structures in your work?

KH:  the name was just a play on words.  I love language and words, and I was just being clever.  Organic structures harkens back to the main point of my work–patterns in nature.  Why I create is not about the technology, it’s about the image.  I just happen to use technology.  If 3-d wasn’t available, I’d be working in clay or glass to format the patterns.  I don’t’ know if time based would be possible, that’s different from any sort of traditional mediums.

ME:  Must art be beautiful?  Which of course, begs the question, how do you define beauty?

KH:  Obviously, it doesn’t need to be beautiful.  Beauty is one of those things that is defined by the viewer.  I find I’m inspired by things I find beautiful.  It’s something that the individual artist has to define themselves.

It’s not the way art is defined–it’s the perspective of the creator.  And ss far as the viewer is concerned, it’s something they have to decide.

At shows, I’ve seen how people react to my work.  It’s fascinating to me.  I’m creating the work for myself, and I share the work.  I don’t get caught up in broad sweeping segments about what art is.  I’m creating it.  I call myself an artist.  It’s been liberating to me.

“2007.5” Installation in Salinas, Kansas. 2010

ME:  Tell me about your current installation in Salinas, Kansas.

KH: it’s the installation happened earlier this summer.  The Arts and Humanities Committee there asked me to come in and do some site-specific installations in the downtown area.  The National Endowment for the Arts funded the project.  I was there for about a week, visited a bunch of sites and settled on two; one above a coffee shop, and the other in the museum where the Arts and Humanities commission offices were.  I prepared the window surfaces for the time based pieces of the site.  The museum piece is much larger image, separated for four projections.   It’s one thing to see my work on the computer screen, but it’s always important to me to see these things in context; to see it on site.

ME: In your role as a professor @ SCAD, beyond their college credits, what wisdom do you seek to impart to your students?

KH: The program that I teach is a visual effects program, oriented toward industry–film animation.  I want students to see that these tools they are using, to be used also for non-commercial purposes; to satisfy their own creative urges, not always in service to someone else’s intent.  I hope they get that from it.  I hope too that they always remember that whatever the medium, it should always be in service to artistic intent.  The medium shouldn’t stand in the way of the message or intent that they are trying to implement.

ME: What means art today, is it the same as it ever was, or has something fundamentally changed because of digital technology?

KH: Artist have always used whatever was available to them, and at times they probably wouldn’t consider it as art—when art was more integrated in day to day experiences.  I don’t think anything has changed.  Artists are simply using what technology is available to them. This has been going on for thousands of years. What ever is available, artists will find a way to use it creatively.  There’s no fundamental difference.

One thing I think is terrific though, is that with the new technology, artists are able to communicate their work to a much broader audience.  That to me is probably the biggest change.  But artists in general…artists take advantage of what’s available to them.

ME:  What is something that people should know about you that they might see in your work, but not understand?  In other words, how do you describe what you do, and how does that tie into you—the personality?

KH:  The biggest thing that I think that might be–the subtle thing—is that I’m driven by my curiosity of the world. And often times the pieces I create, almost always, are directly inspired by things I’ve seen or experience in the physical world.  It’s not always an obvious connection.  I do try to keep the work fairly ambiguous.

My work–it’s a combination of experience. But it’s not arbitrary; they do have a basis in my curiosity, my desire to discover new things.

ME: Can you take a moment and talk about your creative process?

KH: Typically, it starts from sketches, almost always–written about, beforehand.  I go through a pretty long development process ahead of time, doing technical experiments; determining if the tools I have available will work, or if I’ll have to develop my own tools.  With time based work, it takes anywhere from a month to 6 months.  I try to get to the rough outlines quickly, to prove that it’s going to work.  Then I start to define it, that process is very incremental; until it matches up with the initial idea that I had.  Sometimes I shelve an idea until technology catches up, or until my skills catch up.  If they are strong enough, I’ll go back to those ideas and implement them at a later date.

ME: What does the future hold for art and technology, well as far as you can say?  What’s your vision?

KH:  I’ve been working a lot recently on time-based work.  So, let me put it in terms in what I would like to see happen there.  I would like technology to come to the point where an entire place, a surrounding, where say, a massive wall could be used as a changeable display; not needing external projection, without obvious technology—seamlessly.  I can see that happening within the next ten years, where images can be more incorporated in day to day experiences.  Of course, this might create more art and more noise.  Artist show that any technology can be used to create something meaningful or to create noise.  I would like to see more and more sophisticated technologies that aid in incorporating art seamlessly.

ME:  Is there something I haven’t asked about that you’d like to share?

KH: I’ve been spending most of the summer creating new time based works.  Now I’m starting to show the pieces on Vimeo, so that people can get a better sense of the time based work, without being there in person.  That’s the next thing, rolling out more of my work on Vimeo, it’s a universal platform.

“2002.11b”

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Additional artwork can be found in the AD MAG Artist Galleries, and a full 3-year archive of AD MAG articles can be found here.  Visit Kenneth Huff’s website here–his blog here.

Homage: Contemporary Art in Digital Media

In Art, Commentary, News on August 28, 2010 at 7:48 pm

“Oak Tree” by Kerry Mitchell

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H O M A G E

Contemporary Art in Digital Media

by Joe Nalven and Jim Respress
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“The Sanction of the Cloth” by Liz Lopes

Homage is a good beginning for connecting traditions in art as well as pointing the way to contemporary understandings about picturing the world around us.  Based in San Diego, California, the Digital Art Guild [DAG] is an international organization currently presenting a touring group exhibition of digital art prints, which opened July 9th at the Partnership for the Arts Municipal Gallery in Escondido, California, and will travel on September 11th to the Art Institute of California – San Diego.  The show bears the title Homage.

For the exhibition, which showcases what is a longstanding tradition in the history of art, artists were asked to create pieces that represent a celebration of persons or ideas that have influenced their lives; using computer software, the most recent of artistic media.

“Homage in art is useful for looking back to those upon whose shoulders we stand, connecting us to a diversity of visions about the human condition”

A large portion of art throughout history has paid homage to earlier artists and their work.  Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, painted in 1656, has often been the subject of homage.  Pablo Picasso painted 58 variations of Las Meninas more than 300 years after the original, using it to explore color, movement, form and rhythm.  Another of Velázquez’s paintings, “Portrait of Pope Innocent X”, became the source of many variations for Francis Bacon.  His well-known “Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X” is often referred to as the Screaming Pope.

The styles and art context for Velázquez were quite different than for Picasso and Bacon. Velázquez lived in 17th century Spain and became the court painter to King Philip IV, a despotic ruler and sometimes thought to be the cause of Spain’s decline. For Picasso and Bacon and their respective homage, in an outpouring of variations, occurred in a time where various art movements had sprung up. But for both artists, their interpretations were part of an emerging European expressionism, or perhaps neo-expressionism, following World War II.

Homage in art is useful for looking back to those upon whose shoulders we stand, connecting us to a diversity of visions about the human condition. But what makes an artistic homage interesting and not a mere copy?  What makes each an anecdote or a poor rendition of a cultural icon?

“In art as well as in science, almost everything we create is homage to those who have created before us”

Members of DAG prefer to be in the first category not in the latter, delivering meaningful works of art, not mere copies. That was the challenge that the Homage show presented. Having been formed in 2003, and having members with experience in digital media for a much longer period of time, DAG wanted to exceed its previous exhibits with a STATEMENT.

Creatives constantly need to build from something in order to synthesize new ideas. The stimulus for new ideas rarely comes from a single source but rather many; sometimes often seemingly unrelated sources. In the area of digital art, for example, we owe as much to computer science as we do to traditional forms of art.

In art as well as in science, almost everything we create is homage to those who have created before us.  Although, we may not always be aware of the nod.  We might even need to have it pointed out to us by another observer.  When, on the other hand, one sets out intentionally to create a work of art that pays homage to someone or something, the task is quite different.

“No ideological cliché need apply, but rather a muscular engagement of intellect and spirit, in the continuing adventure of art”

The starting point is the object of homage, be it a person or perhaps an idea.  The challenge then is to create something that hopefully does not copy the object, but utilizes some attribute or element, as such, that the viewer can recognize. And the end result should be a piece of artwork that stands on its own, while at the same time bows graciously to the honored idea or person.

In this exhibition we present forty-nine new pieces of art created in digital media that express homage in their own way, acknowledging a single source of inspiration.  Though collectively, the combined works also serve to acknowledge the arts and humanities contribution from the ever-developing field of digital media.  This is a gentle way of making a statement that the tools of the imagination can be paint and paintbrushes, Brillo pads, thrown paint, mixed media objects embedded in the surface or art created with a computer. And in that regard, this digital-aged homage informs that we are no different than Velázquez, Picasso or Bacon.

It requires the viewer to pay attention to the image–its vision, composition and impact, not the tools of the trade. No ideological cliché need apply, but rather a muscular engagement of intellect and spirit, in the continuing adventure of art.

Is Your Museum Too White?

In Commentary, Feature, Interview, News on August 24, 2010 at 2:36 pm

(Image credit: kconnors / morguefile)

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Is Your Museum Too White?

by Max Eternity

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For some years now, behind the scenes and in galleries and museums, artists and curators have been discussing the transformative effects electronic and digital technologies are having in the arts. As a curatorial adviser on digital art – the founder of Art Digital Magazine, which has the largest online archive in the world of feature-length interviews with new media artists, writers and educators – I’ve participated in quite a few of these debates.

With some expected delay, works of art made with digital tools are becoming more accepted in the mainstream, as the intersection between the arts and sciences becomes intractably intertwined. This has led some to wonder: Is the word “artist” becoming outdated? We now have nomenclature for new mediums and genres, so what about the people creating those works? Who’s a “technologist” versus who’s an “artist”? Or does it make better sense to just call a person on the cutting-edge of art and technology, a “creative”? In addition, there is a growing need to understand and incorporate new social constructs, such that the institutions of art and culture can reach their audiences and, thus, remain relevant.

Just like the industrial revolution, which started out as a technological leap forward in agriculture and manufacturing 200 years ago and 100 years later entered a second wave that ended up being a catalyst for great change all around – literally transforming interactions between race and class – the digital revolution is not just about online entertainment, easy chat and techno-gadgets. No, its causation reverberates much deeper than that.

Here’s a quick for instance. Through mass production, as Europe moved from Gutenberg’s hand press, invented in 1440, to the 19th Century, printing went from a luxury to something ubiquitous and quite affordable. This in turn saw the rise of public libraries and literacy rates went up dramatically. It may seem hard to believe now, but once upon a time, books were essentially to be found only in well-funded religious institutions and in the homes of the rich. There was no such thing as the local community college, the public library or the neighborhood Barnes & Noble. And as far as fine art printing went – as in, lithographs of artists’ works – until the industrial age, there was no such thing as editioning off 300 prints for prospective clients.

Today, commerce and culture are happening in a virtual realm, resulting in real, quantifiable, socio-economic change. And while oil paintings and industrial age print types continue to dominate in galleries and museums, art facilitated by digital tools is popping up everywhere.

As humankind takes another leap forward, whether or not it likes it, this past century’s art hierarchy will not escape certain changes in what they show and to whom and how they show. And who better to talk to about these new shifts than Nina Simon, editor of the blogazine Museum 2.0. She’s a successful, well-educated white woman, who says, quite frankly, “museums are too white.”

Nina Simon (Image credit: Nina Simon)

Max Eternity: On your web site, it says Museum 2.0 explores ways that web 2.0 philosophies can be applied in museum design. Could you give a explanation of what that means?

Nina Simon: There are so many examples of expectations around authority on who produces cultural content. I’m interested in how that impacts what happens in traditional cultural intuitions.

Tim O’Reilly defines Web 2.0 as software that gets better the more people use it. I’m interested in that question. How does a museum get better as people walk through the door, not worrying about how someone is dressed or if they will break something, instead seeing people as individuals who can share their expertise and stories to improve everybody’s experience?

ME: So, in addition to what they show, the question must also be asked: who are they showing to and how?

NS: Right and how is a visitor not just a consumer but a participant with that concept.

ME: In an article you wrote last year entitled “Deliberately Unsustainable Business Models,” you say museums are made to plod along, not to shoot to the moon. What’s that about?

NS: I think it’s not specific to museums, a lot of non-profits work this way. A for-profit is made to make a lot of money – to fill your place and make money. There is an understanding that many of those business are going to fail. When you create a museum and you are going to protect these artifacts, or feed the hungry or whatever it is, there’s an expectation that you’re going to be around for a while to provide that program or service. So non-profits are fundamentally not built to achieve a business objective, they are built to provide services, which leads to a mentality of self preservation, not innovation.

ME: So how should museums go about choosing to survive or be “awesome,” as you say? Can they do both?

NS: Well yes, they definitely can. However, survival can’t be your first goal. There are some that need to focus on being awesome, but some not. For instance, if you have the Venus de Milo, that is a conservation ethic and goal about being safe. However, if you are the Bloomington Art Center or the Arizona Science Center, why not try to do whatever you can to really fulfill you mission in a way that’s gong to be exciting? You have to make choices in what you do. It’s about taking some risks.

A lot of work I do with museums is to help them get comfortable taking some risks. I create experiences that allow museums new ways to connect with audiences.

ME: Another article you wrote this year, asks: “What Does it Really Mean to Serve ‘Underserved’ Audiences?” In the piece you state, “Most large American museums are reflections of white culture.” They are “comfortable for whites, while feeling alien for people who don’t grow up in a white culture.” That’s a bold statement to make and being that you are white, that makes it even more surprising. Explain further, if you will.

NS: Well, I can’t speak for all museums. I have been in many museums where that’s not the case. But, I think it’s certainly known historically that most American museums were created in collaboration with some white person who had a collection or created an endowment, which caused that museum to be. So, this has resulted in museums having had goals about educating the lower class and the masses. Maybe white culture isn’t the best to describe it, but a particularly type of upper class or culture, that may or may not be white.

This article was particularly about the science center that I talked about in the piece and in this case the teens were predominately black. But it’s more than just about race. Museums are a reflection of a particular kind of elitism that tends to be white. The majority of visitors are white and there is a real need in museums is to find out how they can invite non-whites to come in. It’s about saying: Hey we’re here for you too.

Who feels comfortable here – what are we subconsciously saying the right and wrong ways to experience this place are and who feels comfortable with those different ways?

When you really talk to people about “why don’t you come,” the answers are complex but it’s always about who feels comfortable inside versus who’s being shut out.

ME: I think, too, it probably has to do with the broader ramifications of new technology, but what else specifically would you say is at the root of recent cultural and living anthropological shifts?

NS: Anthropologically, I think that in history and anthropology museums there has been a rise in the value of viewpoints on particular events – on the use of oral history to captures a story. There’s not just one story, there are many stories here. So, how can we invite many voices to be a part of this story – this object?

ME: Tell me about you book “The Participatory Museum.” What’s it about; why did you write it?

NS: There are a lot of arguments about loosening up authority, opening up the co-creation of the content inside. I feel great about that. Running the blog for the last year, I had a pulse on the concerns. What’s the story – what’s the utility of this?

Then people were asking about the how, with their boards asking: What should we do? How can we get comfortable with this? So, I wrote the book not just to argue why, but to give people tools and resources around how; case studies and design techniques around particular aspects in participations.

Let’s look at what’s possible to do. Explaining how with examples of how, is what I felt was really needed to get people to the next level.

ME: So, Nina, with all that you’ve said, how would you summate this dilemma, while also speaking to a new modality for building and sustaining a successful museum?

NS: Again and again, I’ve found that the only way to make museums comfortable, exciting places for diverse audiences is to spend time with people who are not like you; to listen and understand what they like, what they need, what they respond to. We all have internalized biases about how we want people around us to behave and I frequently see those biases butt up against aspirational statements about diversity. A museum will say they want to attract teens but then the guards growl at kids who travel in packs or are too loud. A museum will say it wants to attract working people but it closes every night at 5. This is why I love working with people who are not traditional museum visitors. I learn so much from them; things that are hard for me to see as an insider.

There is a museum culture and it does affect who does and doesn’t feel comfortable visiting the institution. If we ever want to really make these institutions as accessible, open and diverse as possible, we have to confront the biases inherent in the culture, and question them.

Value the people over the traditions. Show some respect and love for someone who is different from you.

The Participatory Museum, cover illustration by Jennifer Rae Atkins (Image credit: Nina Simon)

African Digital Art

In Art, Feature, Interview on August 4, 2010 at 1:18 pm

“Attack of Jepchumba”

As wave after wave of new technological innovations continue to wash over the world, I’ve become aware of both the intended consequences of access to digital tools, as well as those ramifications which might come as a surprise.  Earlier this year I wrote an article entitled “Electronic Apartheid” which spoke to some of these unintended consequences, where in the piece I quoted one of the world’s most venerated elders, Nelson Mandela as saying “In the twenty-first century, the capacity to communicate will almost certainly be a key human right. Eliminating the distinction between the information-rich and information-poor is also critical to eliminating economic and other inequalities between North and South, and to improve the life of all humanity.”

20 years ago, who would have though the “capacity to communicate” as being a key human right?  And yet, it makes perfect sense because also, in writing that article, I discovered that there is a direct correlation between access to digital technology and high school graduation rates; as outlined in the research of University of California professor–Robert Fairlie.

Someone else who’s hip to all this, and dedicated to do something about it, is Jepchumba, the founder of African Digital Art—an online collective of digital artists and enthusiasts.  And last month, while the World Cup was in full swing in South Africa, Jepchumba and I had a roving email exchange as she made the rounds in her native land.

She’s a spunky young Kenyan living in Chicago, creating digital art and inspiring others to do the same.  And here’s what she had to say.

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African Digital Art: Jepchumba’s Vision

by Max Eternity

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“Young man”

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Max Eternity (ME): Jepchumba, hello and welcome to the interview.

Jepchumba (J): Thanks for having me. Thanks for the interview.

ME:  You are the founder of African Digital Art.  Talk about that–how did it come about?

J:  Yes I am the founder of African Digital Art, but I am first and foremost an African digital artist. African Digital Art was created for people like me who are interested in pursuing a career or passion for anything that has to do with creativity and technology. African Digital Art came out of a need for more visibility of Africa’s talent in the digital media industry.

While I was pursuing my master’s in Digital Media from London Metropolitan University in the UK, I was flabbergasted by the lack of knowledge and awareness of the digital media arena in Africa. Due to the lack of resources and access to ICT and a host of other issues in Africa it seemed as though we were once again underestimated, almost counted out.  So African Digital Art really came about to trumpet the incredible talent and creativity that was flowing through the continent. Even though we still have a long way to go as far as the challenges that Africa has in terms of technology and development, we still have a lot to offer. Africa has a long rich and cultural tradition in the visual arts, so it was only natural for it to move into the digital arena.

ME:  You’ve got all these different skills, creating web design, digital paintings, animation and film.  That’s a lot going on–how do you manage?

J:  Ha. That is a great question. During my studies for my Masters in Digital Media I wanted to have a comprehensive education around the whole industry. I was really interested in the project management aspect of producing digital projects but I was determined to also have the skill behind it. Let’s just say I spent many hours online reading and mulling over tutorials trying to get my hands on anything that I could, like I mention on my website: I DREAM IN DIGITAL

ME:  I was just looking at your “Be Water” video.  I love the color and graphics.  It’s a great message too.  What inspired that video–why did you create it?

J: The “Be Water” video was a little project I did to learn Kinetic Typography. I have been fascinated with typography and graphic elements, and at the time I was doing my best to get exposed in using motion with graphic design.

ME: There are a couple of images in black and white that you created that caught my attention.  Tell me about “Rainman” and “Sky Jedi.”

J:  Wow! “Rainman” and “Sky Jedi” were really born out of a course I took at Mount Holyoke College, where I did my undergraduate studies. I took a course on Black Masculinity that really transformed the way I understood gender issues. Mount Holyoke College is an all women’s college; actually the first women’s college in the United States, and I had spent an extensive amount of time studying the place of thought in issues such as gender, sexuality, equality, individuality and political expression. I felt as though I had spent so much time understanding feminist issues that I needed to dedicate some time in understanding the masculine side. Those pieces were really inspired by a book I read in that masculinity class called Native Son by Richard Wright, the controversial view of the plight and struggle of the African American man.

“Sky Jedi”

“Rainman”

ME: How do you see digital technology changing life in Africa?  Is it having a noticeable effect?

J: Digital Technology is transforming the way the world looks at Africa. Due to increased access in technology many Africans today have the opportunity to really speak for themselves. For a long, long time, the world has seen a very narrow view of Africa; a continent that is plagued by hunger, disease, strife and suffering. Those narrow lenses are now widened with accesses to technology. More and more Africans are gaining accesses to devices that allow them to practice their ingenuity.

There are tech companies such as Ushahidi, Appfrica and Frontline SMS that are changing the way the world experiences technology. Africans are using their mobile devices to surf the web, communicate with their family and the globe, and also generate income. Africans are using their computer to design their cities, their homes and express themselves. If you want to see a noticeable effect start by looking at africandigitalart.com you can see a slice of what I am taking about right then and there.

ME: Is African Digital Art engaged in the World Cup in any way, like selling art posters observing the World Cup taking place right now on the African continent?

J: African Digital Art network isn’t actually selling posters but you are completely right that there is an opportunity to blend visual arts with commercial opportunity. This is the next phase that ADA is embarking on. One thing that I believe strongly is that creativity has the potential to drive and influence an economy.

ME: Is there something else of interest that we need to be aware of.

J: I am currently traveling through Africa speaking with designers, architects, advertisers, students, professors and enthusiasts who are in the digital media industry on the best way to push forward and encourage economic success in the region. Countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Egypt are already reaping huge benefits by having professionally trained artists in the digital media industry who are taking in massive animation, film, web design projects. Africa has the potential to lead in the design industry and we can continue to influence how the world experiences and understands art and design like we have for centuries.

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

J: I am completely honored. Thank you for taking the time to spend these past few weeks over this interview. I have been traveling throughout the continent and at times communication wasn’t the best on my part. Thank you so much for taking an interest in the work that I do as well as the African Digital Art Network.

“Boy”

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To learn more about Jepchumba and African Digital Art, click here.  A full 3-year archive of AD MAG articles and interviews can be found here