CREATING CONSCIOUSNESS

LET US BEGIN

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Your web site is www.jigglingwhisker.com. What is the story behind the domain name?

Haha, I get asked that a lot! I created jigglingwhisker when I first left Houston for grad school. One of my all-time favorite animations is a piece by The Brothers Quay called Rehearsal for Extinct Anatomies. In the animation there is a deformed creature with a mole and whisker on it’s forehead. It obsessively rubs this protuberance until the whisker falls out. I’ve always loved the simultaneous ambiguity and metaphorical qualities of that image.

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What is the Digital Media program at UF?

The Digital Media Art program (DMA) is a component of the School of Art + Art History that is concerned with the relationship of art and technology. We view digital technology as an important component of contemporary society and therefore an element that requires special attention from the artist and academia. We view ourselves as not unlike painting or sculpture in that people come here to learn first and foremost about art, but then, by the very nature of culture, explore the possibilities of digital media.

How did you get into digital media as an artist? How did that evolve?

Whether consciously or not, I have always been interested in how ideologies become embedded in communities and how that is ultimately expressed in form. My step-father was a drag racer in the 1950s and 60s and my earliest memories are of hot-rods, Big Daddy, Rat Fink, and the culture that surrounded that aesthetic. He taught me how mechanical systems worked and I came to realize how the systems could express something beyond utility. The form of the car embodied the meanings and values of the author (hot rodder). Some guys were “go” guys, and others were “show” guys. So, at a base level, I have always been fascinated by how things work (tech) but simultaneously concerned with the ways meaning is generated (art). For me, it was a natural progression from sculpture, to interactive sculpture, to video installation, and ultimately, digital media.

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What is your background personally? Where are you from? Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I guess my background and development as an artist are pretty closely intertwined, so the previous question answers some of that, but I grew up in Dallas, Texas. In addition to being a hub of car culture, Dallas is the heart of the “Bible Belt”, so I didn’t escape that untarnished, either, LOL. My family went through a period of extreme fundamentalist mind-control (my parents owned a Christian bookstore, I went to a Christian high school, even went to Bob Jones University for one semester, etc). To me, that period exemplified the negative and repressive elements of ideology, especially with respect to creativity. While car culture valued diversity and creativity, my experience with fundamentalism was exactly the opposite. Exposure to both sides of these modes-of-life has been a core influence on all aspects of my being, especially as an artist.

After leaving Bob Jones, I went to Texas A&M to study architecture. I became a licensed architect and worked in Houston, primarily doing design in the Healthcare industry. I was quickly bored and frustrated with the compromises of business and was very unhappy. A friend and I were laid-off at the same time and began a small business designing and selling “functional art”. He eventually went back to the security of a “real job” and I began to drop the “functional” for just art. My wife and I became increasingly involved in the Houston art community and in the early 90s, sold everything we owned, borrowed her mother’s small retirement, and purchased an abandoned warehouse in downtown Houston. We knew there were a number of other artists, like ourselves, who needed cheap space to make large messes, and wanted to be near a community of others interested in art.

For almost ten years we worked on the building, developing it into 13 artists studios and an exhibition space that showed local, regional and international work. Unfortunately, the city of Houston decided to build Enron Field (now Minute Maid Park) just two blocks from our front door. Exercising their “developmental wisdom” they raised property values (and therefore taxes) in the surrounding neighborhoods, and we were forced into a situation in which we could no longer lease space for prices artists could afford. Rather than convert the building into yuppie lofts, we decided it would be best to sell. My art had become increasingly “digital”, and I had already been considering commuting to Texas A&M to do graduate work, so the timing worked out and we left Houston in 1999. To make a long story short, I finished my Masters of Science in Computer Visualization in 2003 and my PhD in Architecture (Computer Visualization) in 2007.

I could never have imagined the trajectory my life has taken to date, so I have no expectation that I know what I’ll be doing in ten years! I do know that I will be making art. That has been the one constant in all of these years. I can’t imagine a life without feeling the need to make things that mean something.

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Does someone have to be into digital media before applying to the program?

It depends on what you mean by “into digital media”. We look for people who communicate that they feel their ideas are more completely expressed using digital media than, say, painting or sculpture (obviously). We don’t expect that they will be experts using any particular technology. Tools can always be learned. We are more interested in their work as artists.

What types of tools would someone learn in the program?

At the undergraduate level, there is a general emphasis on a range of activities that include the Internet, video, installation and 3D, but we teach from a concept-oriented perspective. In other words, we don’t “teach” Photoshop, or Dreamweaver, or Final Cut Pro. Graduate students are further along in their artistic development, so we provide leeway for them to create a curriculum that is tailored to their interest. That being said, we do have a set of minimum proficiencies that everyone must meet. If someone is accepted into the program and cannot create a web site, they will be required to take our hypermedia course.

We encourage students to seek the knowledge they need to accomplish their artistic objectives. For some students, that means learning video. For another, that means learning to program a computer. For yet another, it means taking classes in genetics! We believe students need to learn to discover tools and generate their own content rather than following a formula.

Who is on the faculty and what are their backgrounds?

Katerie Gladdys has an MFA from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her area of focus is in installation primarily involving narrative discourse, ethnography, landscape and environmental studies. Her work often involves locative media and mapping.

Max Becher has an MFA from Rutgers University. His work revolves around issues of place using photography, film, video and digital media. Along with his wife, Andrea Robbins, their primary focus is what they call the “transportation of place” (situations in which one limited or isolated place strongly resembles another distant one).

What do you see being the evolution of contemporary art and how does digital media play into that?

I think contemporary art follows culture. Culture is directly influenced by technology and artists are products of culture, so it stands to reason that artists will be similarly influenced. In order to speak the language of culture, there will be an increasing need for artists to engage with a certain fluency. There is a dynamic at work that is less about “media/medium” that about communication and the forms with which that is facilitated.

What is the difference between digital media and interdisciplinary art?

Is there such a thing as non-interdisciplinary art? Certainly since the 60s the idea of disciplines has eroded, and I am not convinced that we need a new category called “digital media”, or “new media”, or “electronic media” or whatever title is conceived. However, I suppose the title is an acknowledgement that there are new forms of knowledge and new technological proficiencies needed in order to produce work at this point in our history. While there are still some who subscribe to a formalist/essentialist approach to art, the work that interests me has moved beyond that conception and is by its very nature concerned with the world beyond itself. Because digital media is diffuse within culture, and because it involves so many disparate disciplines, it can’t help but be “interdisciplinary”. As an artist however, I think of it as “transdisciplinary”, in that it is not limited to the structures or preconceptions of discipline but willfully transcends them.

What are some other digital media artists that we all should be aware of?

Wow, there are a lot of people, and for a lot of different reasons (some for good reasons, others not). Igor Vamos, Jim Campbell, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, Jennifer Willet and Shawn Bailey, Pierre Hughye, Camille Utterback, Eduardo Kac, Natalie Jeremijenko, Steve Kurtz, Paul Pfeiffer, Stelarc, Oron Catts, Heath Bunting, Beatirz da Costa, eToy, Superflex, Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen, Thomas Zipp, Golan Levin, Christian Nold, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Sal Rudolph, Thomson and Craighead, David Rokeby, and I could go on and on…..

Who is your favorite digital media artist?

Again, it’s like naming your favorite song. There are so many, and for so many different reasons, and it changes all the time. Probably the work that has had the greatest effect on me would be Gary Hill’s Tall Ships, which I saw in Houston in the early 90s. More recently, Rubin and Hansen’s Listening Post was a powerful surprise. I had read about it, and seen pictures and videos, but never really appreciated it as much as I did experiencing it. I really love the McCoy’s work.

How has your path lead you to Univeristy of Florida? How has the experience been so far?

I was getting near the end of my PhD work, knew I wanted to teach in an art department, and began to apply to several universities looking for digital media artists. I love it. As with any bureaucracy and any situation dealing with people who have varying agendas, there are struggles, but so far it has beenwonderful experience.

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Did you go to Art Basel? What did you see while there? What are projects down there were you impressed with?

This was my first visit to Art Basel Miami. In general, I was impressed with the whole district. I don’t know how long it has been developing, or the direction it is heading, but I loved seeing the warehouses. Of course, with Miami real-estate values, I’m sure they are well out of reach for lowly artists, today.

As far as the artwork. I enjoyed a piece I saw at Photo Miami that was a video of a Christmas tree, intermittently lit by a sputtering gas generator. I can’t recall the artists name, unfortunately. I also enjoyed seeing Matthew Suib’s Purified by Fire piece, and his “cargo-van-on-fire” across the street. The most impressive piece I saw was Thomas Zipp’s Spirit Over Matter (Future Organ) installation at the Rubell Collection. He (or someone) was at the controls of a set of large black instruments, creating a series of tones that contributed to a completely dystopic atmosphere that perfectly complemented imagery of what looked to be the ruins of an old Russian schoolhouse. Myself and a couple of grads also visited the Janet Cardiff show at the museum. I had read about her work for years, as well, and finally got to experience it. I thought it was absolutely wonderful.

What art projects are you working on for your own personal work?

I always have 3 or 4 ideas floating around. I also have a long-term piece that I started several years ago that needs attention. I proposed some things then that were fairly expensive and are now very much within reach; so, I’m hoping to do some work on it this semester. It’s a project called Public News Network (PNN). It is more a framework than a singular project and is difficult to describe succinctly, but essentially it is a computer application that gives people the power to re-visualize “corporate media”. For example, one prototype of the project called Re-present has involved the collection/capturing/visualization of transcripts of the evening news for the past six years, now. The application is not currently working (one of the things that needs attention), but the URL is http://www.publicnewsnetwork.net/

How has being a professor helped or hurt your evolution as an artist?

Well, it’s probably too early to tell at this point. In comparison to where I have been (in school) for the last several years, this feels like a great situation, in that I have more time to work on my art. In school, it seems like you are often completely absorbed by short term deadlines and activities that leave little time for true experimentation and exploration. As a professor, I am expected to develop my own research as a part of my job requirements. That is a challenge that I truly enjoy.

What advice do you have for young artists starting out? Any advice on how to get into shows and galleries?

You’ll NEVER make a living by selling art! Just give that idea up and be happy with the notion that art is something you do because you have no other choice. Stick with it. Vigorously guard your time for disciplined practice and cultivate connections with a community of other like-minded individuals. In dealing with artists over the years, I came to realize that some people can cope with this situation by having a parallel career that is tangentially related to their art (and therefore creatively satisfying), while others HAVE to keep their art and what pays the bills separate. Think about which type you are and make decisions that enable your happiness. Life is about priorities, and, if art isn’t a major priority, don’t call yourself an artist.

Obviously, exhibitions are an important venue to have your work seen. By being a part of your local art community you will learn about regional exhibitions. Submit work to these calls at every opportunity, especially if the juror is someone you respect. This will build your resume (which should list your exhibitions), and, if you are interested in gallery representation, make you more attractive. Don’t succumb to the idea that having gallery representation is the only way to have your work seen. Be proud to exhibit your work independently or in small groups. Again, this is where being a part of the art community is invaluable.

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3 Comments

  1. Jack Stenner Interview at JaxCAL
    December 27, 2007

    […] Jack Stenner […]

    Reply
  2. lavelli
    January 7, 2008

    This was informative, well spoken and filled with truth.

    Reply
  3. JaxCAL » Blog Archive » ISEA2008 Singapore
    July 26, 2008

    […] maybe try and get a video interview with him while in town for work. I interviewed Jack last year here via a Q&A. His web site is http://www.jigglingwhisker.com. “Unfortunately” as he put it in […]

    Reply

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