Department of Art and Art History News

Interview with Brent Dixon (MFA in Design, 2015) as he prepares to begin work at the United Nations

Thu. May 28, 2015

fake hands coming from wall with wired gloves on with three screens in back
Image courtesy of the Visual Arts Center. Photo by: Sandy Carson.

Describe your background and what lead you to the MFA Design program at UT Austin.

Brent Dixon: I was a round, jowly, and gassy baby. When I was two years old my parents put me in a baby beauty pageant, and I won "Champion Chubby." As a kid I drew on everything and did science experiments in my room. One time I set my bed on fire by trying to electrify Nickelodeon Gak.

Fast forward: After finishing my undergrad in journalism, I co-founded a web and mobile design shop with a couple of friends. We always designed our first prototypes around a table with our clients, using markers, paper, tape, and hot glue before making something digital. From there I started working in consumer finance, eventually using some of the same design processes to help create financial products for people with limited access to credit. I also led design workshops for business people, and realized how much I enjoyed teaching. A friend and I started a group that organized pop-up hacker spaces for kids, which brought me back to hot glue and science experiments that set things on fire. I came to the UT Austin Design MFA program because I wanted more of that in my life. This program opens up the entire university as one giant playground.

In how to listen: 2015 Design MFA Thesis Exhibition at the Visual Arts Center, you displayed your educational work with children and focus on bringing technology into the classroom in an easy way for teachers. How did you begin working with this age group and thinking about education?

BD: One of the best ways to learn is to teach. I wanted to learn more about things that will have a big impact on our future — technologies like synthetic biology, robotics, digital fabrication —but that felt far outside of my realm of expertise. Designing hands-on workshops for kids provided a system to distill these big topics down to something learnable, fun, and usually messy.

Organizing the workshops helped me meet parents, teachers, and other people working in education. Austin, in particular, has this amazing community of people working to bring hands-on, curiosity-based learning into classrooms. I had actually avoided schools early in organizing these workshops because I was afraid of red tape, but spending time with educators who teach 6 year olds to solder and use power tools opened my eyes to the universe of smart, inspiring people as well as the huge amount of work to be done in formal education.

For the how to listen exhibition, each designer contributed sound clips for a compilation of influences on your projects. Can you tell us more about your selections? Number 41 (a first-grade girl scratches a turntable for the first time) and 58 (a third-grade girl describers her experiments and inventions) and particularly good.

BD: Number 41 was from a one-day workshop at Travis Heights Elementary. We had an extremely amazing of artists, scientists, and educators who volunteered their time to lead workshops with the kids. Three of those mentors were from Dub Academy, an Austin-based DJ and music production school. They taught kids at Travis Heights about new and old school DJ technology. That clip was from a little girl learning how to scratch a record for the first time.

Number 58 was a girl from Walnut Springs Elementary, one of the schools I worked with during my MFA research. In addition to the inventions she describes in the clip (which are amazing) she also helped write a grant to get the school a 3D printer. Later in the interview she encouraged other kids in Austin, saying that if they wanted something like a 3D printer or a community garden at their school: "Just write a grant! You can do it! It's easier than you think!" I was blown away by her.

You recently accepted a position with the U.N. What will you be doing and how did this opportunity come about?

I'll be working with a new group designed to help Secretariat organizations use emerging technologies to address challenges. A mutual friend introduced me to the head of the group and we've spent the last six months brainstorming and getting to know each other. I'm extremely excited to get started.

Q+A with INGZ, a feminist anti-racist art action group

Thu. May 28, 2015

for women stand in gallery with artwork on floor
INGZ members during installation of LaToya Ruby Frazier: Riveted at the Visual Arts Center

INGZ defines themselves as a feminist anti-racist art action group. They collaborate on exhibitions, publishing, lectures, interventions and art making to promote conversation about the many expressions of identity. Fluid and strategic, INGZ attacks white supremacist capitalist patriarchy by creating space to be heard, to listen, and to experiment in the field of the visual. INGZ includes Uchenna Itam (PhD student in Art History), Julia Neal (PhD student in Art History), Rebecca Giordano
 (MA student in Art History), and Natalie Zelt (PhD student in American Studies).

Describe your individual research focus.

Itam: I am interested in contemporary artistic practices in the United States with a focus on performativity and the diasporic African experience.


Neal: I research 20th century art from the United States, and consider virtuality, sound, and identity within global contexts between 1940s–70s.

Giordano: My research comes from a place of genuine curiosity with an aim toward teaching. I am compelled to the exploration of the political through visual forms and aesthetic practices by women and people of color from 1968 onward. Particularly, I consider the consistently political forms of conceptualism and systems art that targeted invisibility and erasure as well as the politics of labor. My eye rests where the line between art and politics is untraceable. 


Zelt: I study contemporary art from the United States with focus on photography and identity.

How did you four meet?


INGZ: We met as colleagues in Dr. Cherise Smith's seminar Historicizing the Politics of Identity during the fall 2013 semester.

What was the impetus for starting INGZ?


INGZ: With Dr. Smith's Historicizing the Politics of Identity as both a real and conceptual backdrop, we compelled each other to put into practice our own negotiations for ethical and responsible curating. A smaller seminar allowed us to build an intimate space for learning and a sense of camaraderie that could foster new projects and creative intervention. With and through challenging curriculum, our time in Dr. Smith’s seminar was an invaluable educational experience for professionalism in the arts. INGZ is a testament to a trajectory of a spirited class experience catalyzed and synthesized for tangible, durable forms of practice outside the classroom.

The Visual Arts Center's call for exhibition proposals was timely. We are transients and new to Austin, experiencing the city through various lenses, from isolated educational spaces at the university, to East Austin neighborhoods and different classed social scenes. We wanted to work with an artist who engaged with socioeconomic issues akin to those affecting Austin communities. Though we came together to begin with a project, INGZ is as much about us forging a new model of collectivity and curatorial process as it is about our commitment to promoting and presenting artwork. What we do is a practice.

Your first curatorial project was LaToya Ruby Frazier: Riveted, what was the thinking behind the exhibition?


INGZ: We prefaced Frazier's name to emphasize the primacy of her photographic practice and discursive identity in relation to art, activism, teaching, and criticism. First, we were adamant about organizing an exhibition of work that we all valued, and secondly, work that manifested a consciousness about intersections of race, gender, class, and nationality. The term "riveted" followed after striving to provide enough space and time for audiences to encounter multiple aspects in Frazier's work. We succeeded in obtaining two venues for displaying her work, hence "riveted" was used as a moniker linking both shows. We decided to work on this exhibition only after Frazier graciously decided to work with us.

Why did you use two on-campus spaces for the exhibition?

INGZ: LaToya Ruby Frazier: Riveted consists of two exhibitions and was intentionally designed as such. Curatorially, the two-shows-under-one-heading structure allowed us to push the show in many more directions. We were able to present two very different narratives and offer two residencies that included a variety of student-centered events. As with any show, the venue draws a specific audience. It was exciting to see the range of visitors who were able to see Frazier’s work because there were two distinct shows in two different kinds of galleries. 
After INGZ received support from Dr. Cherise Smith, associate director of the Warfield Center and associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History, we immediately broadened our scope for the possibilities of what to put on view. It was a quick, deliberate, and conscientious choice. Having a second semester-long exhibition was the next logical step in what would have just been a one-month show at the Visual Arts Center.

What did you learn from the processing of managing the exhibition and public programming?

INGZ: If you need things done, you do it. For most of us, this wasn’t new work at all. What we learned was that we don’t need to rely on old methods and forms. We can apply our know-how and passion to do things the way we envision. The experience of engaging with the multiple institutional and bureaucratic levels of UT Austin reinforced our existing skillsets as professional scholars and curators, as well as committed activists and educators.

What is next for INGZ?


INGZ: The question of "what's next" implies finality for our first project. In reality, we have built some incredible relationships that will have an enduring impact on our anti-racist and feminist commitments as scholars and curators. We are working towards maintaining respectful, challenging, and professional approaches to the privilege of representing art on behalf of artists. Ideas abound.

Individually, what is the next step in your research?

Itam: I’m preparing for qualifying exams in the fall, so I’ll spend the summer reading.


Neal: I'll be in Middlebury, Vermont this summer to learn German, a seven-week 24 hour tabula rasa of my fluency in French. 


Giordano: This summer I will be completing my thesis on the work of Mierle Laderman Ukeles, which suddenly has become about the immateriality of the readymade. I will be working as a research assistant on an upcoming book project and am currently pursuing positions in museum education. 


Zelt: Right now, I am reading for my comprehensive exams in the fields of American Studies, Critical Race and Gender Studies, and Contemporary Art/Photography in the United States. Inspired by my research and work with LaToya Ruby Frazier’s work, I am considering intergenerational self-portraiture as a means of upsetting representational histories.


LaToya Ruby Frazier: Riveted 
was previously on view at:

Visual Arts Center
November 7 – December 6, 2014
View installation images

The Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, ISESE Gallery
February 18 – May 6, 2015
View gallery talk and reception images

 

Q+A with Bryan Martello, MFA candidate in Studio Art

Thu. May 28, 2015

TAGS

digitally altered photograph of man with legs cut off at knees on ground
Waisting, 2014

"I am interested in subverting the history of 'straight' photography, one predominately made by heterosexual men. I use the camera as a tool to lie, exaggerate, and conceal. In my staged photographic montages, I hijack the authority of advertising tropes. My photographs explore androgyny and question gender roles enforced in advertisements by juxtaposing traditionally masculine elements with those traditionally feminine.

The production of my photographs occurs entirely in my studio; I take on the role of a laboratory technician, a toucher of objects. I create fictions that are low-tech and DIY. I am drawn to synthetic materials for their efficient and commonplace qualities. The objects are identifiable but derailed from their prescribed function. The pathetic becomes glamorous."

—Bryan Martello

dark ice melting on blue plastic with pink background
Public Pool, 2014

Describe your background.

Bryan Martello: I moved to Austin two years ago to begin my Studio Art graduate studies. Before moving here, I was living in Boston where I’m originally from. I got a BFA in photography from the Massachusetts College of Art, and then worked for the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts for a few years.

Why did the Studio Art program at UT Austin appeal to you?

BM: I was drawn to studying at UT Austin for many reasons. The biggest was the work that was associated with the program — from both students and faculty. I was impressed and familiar with many of the faculty and wanted to work closely with them. Once I visited the MFA studios, I also was impressed by the current graduate student’s work and felt like this was a community I wanted to be a part of.

Your work can be humorous, familiar, and disconcerting — sometimes all at once. Would you describe how you decide what to portray?

BM: In my work, I look to hijack the authority of advertising tropes. I’m very interested in the affect my images can have on the viewer, which is often why I use humor, the familiar, and things disconcerting. There is a dark humor in the work that is on one hand funny and on the other hand really uncomfortable. There is an awkwardness to the objects I make that is integral to my work.

You're wrapping up your second year in the graduate program. What has been the most dramatic change in your process?

BM: I think the most dramatic change in my process since beginning here at UT Austin has been the use of my studio. My entire process revolves around the studio, and it is where all the objects are made and all the photographs are taken. As a result of that, I’ve been more interested in materials and the overall materiality of the photograph itself.

What has been the best thing about being in Austin?

BM: The best part of Austin, especially for a graduate student, is that it’s a really easy and fun city. There is enough going on to keep the city interesting and exciting, but there is also a lot of time and space available which makes art making easier than in other cities.

bryanmartello.com


Martello was recently awarded the Martha Leipziger-Pearce Endowed Scholarship in Art and the Graduate Named Endowed Fellowship from the Graduate School. Martello also received the William and Bettye Nowlin Endowed Presidential Fellowship in Photography in 2014 and the Russell Lee Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Photography in 2013.
 

Q+A with Rachel Stuckey, MFA candidate in Studio Art

Thu. May 28, 2015

screen shot of rooms in fake internet house
Image courtesy of Rachel Stuckey.

Describe your background.

Rachel Stuckey: I'm a third generation Austinite who grew up enthusiastically participating in my high school film literacy course, Center for Young Cinema classes, and youth events at SXSW and Austin Film Festival. I spent the first couple years of my undergraduate studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design's film program and finished at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Experimental Film program, which is where I received my BFA. While in Boulder, I worked for the International Film Series and First Person Cinema, an avant-garde film showcase that has run since 1955. I also taught an after school video art class hosted by Boulder LGBT Pride and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. I moved back to Austin to do freelance film and video work and establish Experimental Response Cinema, a volunteer-run micro cinema.

Why did the Studio Art program at UT Austin appeal to you?

RS: After several years of work and study in exclusively film and video environments, I wanted to expand beyond the relatively small community of experimental cinema for my graduate studies by working in a mixed-disciplinary program. Transmedia's video/digital media/performance hybrid approach, nestled within a larger studio art program, along with the department's awesome faculty, UT's research resources, and the media arts community in Austin — UT was a perfect fit. I also hope to teach, so having the opportunity to TA has been wonderful.

You're wrapping up your second year in the graduate program. You've been working on a new project, Welcome to my Homepage!. How does this work depart or act as a continuation of your previous video work?

RS: Welcome to my Homepage! is a net.art project that, unlike my single-channel video works, is changing all the time. It's an expanding cyber-dwelling that begins with the recognizable layout of a house and reaches further and further into the abstract ether of the web. It houses smaller video works and other digital art works as I make them and is also hyperlinked with projects I've made on New Hive and Tumblr, meaning unsuspecting users of those sites could encounter a doorway that routes them into the Homepage!.

It's part memory palace, part drafting board for new ideas, part net experiment. Homepage! also features a residency program, Welcome to my Guest Room!, where interested visitors can sign up to do whatever project they want in the attic space. Recently I've been using elements from Homepage! for a narrative video installation, T0WARD CY83RGN0S1S, that explores ways net-culture can manifest offline as technological occultism and internet-borne disorders.

small tv monitors in room with flowers and pink and purple light
Image courtesy of Rachel Stuckey and Hello Project. Photo by Jon Hopson.

You recently had an exhibition at Hello Project in Houston. What did you learn from the experience?

RS: Jon Hopson, Hello Project's director, approached me with the idea of building a show around a single-channel video work I had made. It was a nice push to start thinking more spatially about my video work in a very practical way, which has since influenced my practice in general. The installation included a single channel video, It Takes All Sorts, projected on an entire wall with surround sound audio that located the viewer in the middle of patronizing conversations, medical tests, and intercom announcements. Across the room were a collection of looping videos on monitors and arrangements of gaudy artificial flowers featured in the video, dimly lit in deep purple and hot pink.

Do you have any other shows coming up?

RS: I'll have a new projector performance in the New Media Art and Sound Summit in Austin on Thursday, June 11, and It Takes All Sorts will be screened in an experimental film event curated by Dani Leventhal at the Women's Studio Workshop in Rosendale, New York, this August.

Q+A with Shrankhla Narya, MFA candidate in Design

Thu. May 21, 2015

woman looking over her shoulder at camera with beach behind
Image courtesy of Shrankhla Narya.

Describe your design practice.

Shrankhla Narya: My practice as a designer is rooted in the belief that future designers will have to critically examine the theoretical, philosophical, and social aspects of design. My formal education in engineering, social science, and aesthetics has allowed me to develop an interdisciplinary approach towards design and examine its relationship with human needs and environments.

I believe that human-centered design, backed by in-depth research, can open doors for innovative solutions to real world problems.

What attracted you to the graduate Design program at UT Austin?

SN: The graduate Design program at UT Austin was an excellent mix of research and skills. I wanted to spend two years doing a course that would not only allow me to do studio work, but would also let me conduct research in areas that truly interested me. The program at UT Austin has been an excellent mix of making and thinking. The fact that we can take electives from any department makes it all the more valuable in terms of the variety of thoughts and experiences that we are exposed to.

What is your current research focus?

SN: My current research work seeks to investigate alternative narratives of technology use that are not driven by the prevailing consumerism of the privileged quarters of the world. I am beginning to streamline my research to investigate and suggest technological interventions for underprivileged people, currently focusing on day laborers in Austin.

Although I acknowledge that policy change and changes in the social structure are very likely the best methods of empowering marginalized communities — in the absence of enlightened legislation — I believe that technological interventions, deployed with an understanding of the social context, can support and complement this process of empowerment and inclusion.

Projects such as Krama and MissU and my ongoing research with day laborers in Austin can be taken as responses, in their own contexts and via their own perspectives, to the larger question “Who do we talk about when we talk about users?” Whether dealing with the most vulnerable sections of the society or engaging small and isolated communities to better understand the many dimensions of inclusion and exclusion, my work describes encounters with technology informed by different cultural, economic, political, and linguistic constraints.

What issues were you trying to solve in your Krama project?

SN: Krama is Sanskrit for progressing step by step towards a desired goal. This project is a speculative system for the future. Krama's aim is to build an alternate economy for the lower caste people (regarded as untouchables) in India by fostering upward mobility for them, both socially and economically. The lower caste people in India have faced extreme discrimination for centuries, and were denied access to public water wells, places of social gatherings, temples, and schools.

Krama creates 3D-printed DIY solar energy kits and portable water purification units for them and helps them learn how to produce resources for themselves, eventually leading to the possibility of an alternate economy for them to function in.

And MissU?

SN: MissU is an app that allows for communication through subtle visual cues displayed on physical objects around the receiver. The idea was born out of my need for long distance communication with my mom, where the time difference between our geographic locations and her lack of exposure to technology and English were the primary hindrances. The app communicates with the night lamp at the receiver’s end (who does not need a smart phone) through arduino and wireless shields.

In the future, we wish to develop 3D printed lamp shades with screens to display the icons and change color based on the sender’s mood.

How has your research or work developed over your time here so far and what are you looking forward to in the next year?

SN: My work has undergone some significant changes since the time I joined this program. I was a fresh chemical engineering graduate from India with no prior work experience. The past 10 months have been an excellent learning experience, along with a rigorous process of unlearning. I have found the area that interests me most, which is at the intersection of interaction design and social design. Arriving at a research area that one can commit to for a long period of their life is never easy, but I am glad that I have been able to find something that brings together my interest in technology and certain questions about our society that have troubled me for a long time.

I will be spending the next few months talking with day laborers in Austin and organizations that work with them. I hope to take my first significant step towards understanding a culture that is alien to me.