“Art comes from the future. And I can prove it!?”

Timothy Morton

2016 was a year of conversations with major art crushes. As we reflect back, we’re thankful for the ways our thinking has been propelled in new and beautiful ways by so many artists, and nine in particular. Here are some highlights of what we learned from conversations with our featured artists this year: on collaboration, coding, magic, machines, psychoacoustics, and so much more.

If creative thinking begets creative thinking (this we know for sure), put these in your pipe and see what happens!


Mileece: On intelligence

Mileece is a visionary artist who began making generative, interactive music with plants in the early 2000s. Her debut album, Formations, was critically acclaimed, the BBC calling it “Beautiful, real musical science,” and Q magazine, “Beauty soaked… twinkling electronica.” She has gone on to create interactive ecospheres around the world, plant-filled ‘soniferous edens’ in places like MOMA, Whitechapel Gallery, Sonos Studio in LA, and in geodesic domes for kids in Bhutan and Los Angeles, to name a few. When I asked her about whether plants are sentient, this was part of her response:

It’s really unfortunate the way we talk about consciousness and sentience. We really like to box it in, and we really like to classify things. It’s actually a form of ignorance and a lack of our own consciousness that we do that. It does nothing but show us how un-evolved we are to think that that could be true. So I would turn that back on ourselves: how unconscious are we to assume other things aren’t conscious, or declare them as unconscious? It’s a mark of our own lack of sentience I think.

Put it this way: there’s never ever any time where nature is more stupid than we thought! Never. It’s always far more intelligent than we thought. Always.

 

Read about Mileece here.

Burnt Dot – On collaboration

Burnt Dot is an experimental jazz/noise group that exists between LA and Ashland. The ensemble transcends the physical limitations of concert halls and recording studios by beaming into their rehearsals and shows via telepresence. Founded by our very own Sarah Belle Reid, a trumpeter and music technologist, and modular synthesist/composer Ryan Gaston, the group has recently been joined by celebrated trumpeter Kris Tiner, and sound pioneer wizard/analog synth player Todd Barton.

We asked them what makes for good collaboration. Here is some of what they said:

TB: Breath and gesture is the short answer. I find we are all connected by breath, we all ride the intuitive breath wave.
KT: Good collaboration comes from good listening.
RG: The group’s ability to mindfully listen is the glue—that is what lets us individually know when to back away, when to hold steady, when to abruptly change direction, etc.
SR: Especially when one of your collaborators is not physically present in the room, you can’t rely on visual cues in the same way. On a technical level, using open-source software such as JackTrip allows you to send and receive high-quality and low-latency audio between multiple locations, making these types of network and telematic collaborations possible.

 

Read about Burnt Dothere.

Memo Akten – On coding

Like a lucid dream, Memo Akten’s work moves through the often one-way glass of things like artificial intelligence, surveillance, drones, and even contemporary dance. His work also asks profound questions about power and the nature of the technology we live, breathe, speak with, and are watched over by. And yet, Akten self-identifies as “an old-fashioned artist. I paint landscapes… and scenes of the divine,” drawing from deep philosophical understandings of what technology—and poetry—really means, and how artists have always used it.

Here he talks about why coding is his medium of choice:

I’ve been writing software for about 30 years now. There’s many reasons as to why I do it. I’m very comfortable with it, that helps. But ultimately I like being able to speak to and control machines. I see it as a language that allows me to transform things from one state to another… The medium that I really work in, and sculpt in, isn’t visual or sonic, it’s behaviour. How things change with time, how they respond to input, how they respond to one another.

 

Read about Memo here.

Bex Freund – On ordinary magic

The oil paintings of Bex Freund vibrate with vitality and decay in a way that is somehow joyous, revealing connections between life and death, between bodies and the world. They are portraits of a reality that is stranger and more perishable than we—in Western culture at least—tend to look at until we have to. But in Bex’s work, it’s impossible to look away.

Reality is a treasure trove of weirdness, in both the micro and macro. It’s largely a matter of perspective—take ourselves, for example. At face value, or as a face in the crowd, we humans might at times seem quite boring, easily overlooked, and overused in art. But physically, we’re sticks of bone wrapped in meat driven by electricity and chemical reactions, clinging to a giant rock spinning through an incomprehensibly vast nothingness. And inside our brains, the imagination creates its own unseen universes. When put like that, suddenly we don’t seem so mundane after all.

 

from Burning, a comic Freund wrote & illustrated while in residency on a boat in the Arctic Circle. Read about Bex here.

George FitzGerald – On limitation

George FitzGerald is a prolific Berlin-based British DJ/Producer. From his garage-influenced beginnings, to techno-house club music, to his 2015 album Fading Love, his work is constantly evolving. He’s put out six EPs and one studio album since 2012, is at work on his next album, runs the label ManMakeMusic, and tours extensively. (This summer he headlined electronic music festivals/parties in Sweden, Scotland, Ibiza, Montréal, and Morocco, to name a few.)

Imposing some limitation on yourself is usually very beneficial. If anything, the boundless options you have with plugins these days can be more of a challenge to creativity than anything else.

Whether it’s hardware or software, I try to limit the amount of new things I will introduce into my setup at any given time. It’s a good discipline to at least attempt to learn the full capabilities of the things you have, and it also helps you to develop a distinctive sound. It’s cheaper too.

 

Read about George here.

Lauren McCarthy – On living with machines

Lauren McCarthy is an artist and programmer whose work takes seriously our human desire to connect—to be ‘liked’, followed, seen and heard. At a time when we spend more time with our devices than anyone else, McCarthy uses these same tools to facilitate connection and intimacy between actual people, in interactive installations that have shown around the world. She is also the lead developer of p5.js, an open-source JavaScript library that makes “coding more accessible for artists, designers, educators and beginners.”

What I think is important is that people understand that the technologies and systems they use are hackable. That is, we don’t have to see them as black boxes that tell us how to interact with them and how to behave. They can be platforms for challenging assumptions, asking questions, and negotiating our own way of being in the world. This might be writing software, but it might also mean misusing an existing app, starting a social movement via social media, or being very thoughtful about which technologies you choose to use and opting out of the ones that don’t feel right to you.

 

McCarthy’s installation/performance project The Changing Room, currently in development. Read about Lauren here.

Amélie Deschamps – On psychoacoustics

The work of French artist Amélie Deschamps might best be described as ethnographic. Starting with a documentary-based exploration of everyday life, she then ‘embroiders’ it, as she says, using the real as a source of fantasy. She has worked with sound, light, text, liquids, dogs and many other mediums. In the tradition of artists like Bas Jan Ader, changing mediums is an essential condition of Deschamps’ work–a kind of shapeshifting she describes as “a need of a constant renewal. You cannot just sit with your ideas and make them like a castle you sit behind.” In 2013, she moved from France to Canada, and describes the difference between Europe and North America in terms of psychoacoustics:

…Artistically, I find it very stimulating. To relate to my body as a sensor, not in a spiritual or intellectual sense, but as a result of a sensorial experience. At first the experience was just… ungraspable, deaf-feeling. I didn’t know what was going on but I knew something was going on… This new landscape shaped my experience in ways I had not seen coming.

 

Amélie Deschamps with Cargo Cult II
Amélie Deschamps with Cargo Cult II. Read more abourt Amélie here.

Eric Singer – On learning

A true visionary in the field of music and robotics, Eric Singer has created musical robots for everything from interactive installations to live performances, integrating machine and human musicians. In our interview with him, Eric gives some solid advice for artists and technologists:

Don’t just learn—learn how to learn. Technology is changing so fast that the software, microprocessor, or language you master today will be replaced in a year. On the other hand, and basically contradictory to this idea, do master and settle on certain technologies you like the most and are most comfortable with, because “obsolete” to one person can be your ongoing tool for many years. Try not to get distracted by every new technology, as you will get no music or art done. There, I’ve just told everyone to do two opposite things, so really, it will require your own rumination on how you want to proceed.

Since we spoke with Eric, he’s been busy working with a team that is developing a groundbreaking new type of EEG called a CerebroScope, that allows doctors to literally see inside the brains of patients who have had brain injuries. He also built a robot for roboexotica—a festival for cocktail robotics in Vienna—that serves flaming shots! We hope your holiday parties have one of these.

 

Eric Singer’s MIDI controlled Skull Drums (2016) (With Eric on drums as Fred Schneider of the B52s!). Read about Eric here.

Josh Eustis – On potential

Josh Eustis is a prolific musician, producer, and sound designer. He’s best known for his influential electronic music project, Telefon Tel Aviv, which has been shaping IDM since 1999. His approach to composition, both solo and collaborative, is about converting potential energy into kinetic energy: how do ideas reach their potential?

Simply put, try to think of a musical idea as being part of a fiefdom of ideas; where does it fit, what is its potential? What COULD it be, what SHOULD it be? Can you answer these questions about the idea? Imagination is everything in music. Imagining what a part or a melody or rhythm COULD be is, for me, an essential part of the composition process. Try everything (within reason of course)!

 

Josh Eustis
Read about Josh here.

I want to take a moment to thank all of these incredible artists for sharing their experiences with us. Part of the Artist of the Month series is to bring attention to people who we feel are defining the future of the arts, but we also learn a lot from them along the way, regardless of the type of work they’re doing. We’re excited to see where the future takes us.

See you next year!