Wed. April 29, 2015
Paul Bolin: It's been a few years since you've graduated, what have you been up to?
Milady Casco: Since graduating in 2010, I have been living in Guatemala working as the on-site coordinator for Casa Herrera, UT Austin’s academic research facility in Antigua. Casa Herrera is operated by the Department of Art and Art History and serves as an extension of The Mesoamerica Center. After almost 4.5 years on the job, I have helped facilitate a number of study abroad programs, academic residencies, and conferences in the areas of archaeology, anthropology, education, and visual culture. Our programs keep growing every year! This summer 2015, we will be welcoming 50 study abroad students from UT Austin and other US academic institutions.
PB: Why were you interested in working in Guatemala at Casa Herrera? How did it fit into your past research?
MC: I initially arrived to Casa Herrera for the first time in 2009 as a student visiting researcher through Casa’s academic residency program. I lived in Casa Herrera for three months and dedicated my time writing my master’s thesis, which was a case study about art education and issues of cultural identity at the Museum of Art in El Salvador (MARTE). I never expected that this residency would be a turning point for me professionally.
During my time in Antigua, I was captivated by the city’s colonial charm, but more importantly I was drawn to learning about the indigenous communities and Mesoamerican history that form the basis of Guatemalan culture and society today. There were many parallels that I had made between the histories and art practice of El Salvador and Guatemala. The more I learned, the stronger I desired to return to Guatemala and continue exploring themes that I had researched in my thesis.
When the opportunity to work at Casa Herrera as a staff member came about, there was no doubt in my mind that this was the job for me. Not only did it give me the chance to work in Central America (which had always been a personal goal of mine), but also to interact with a dynamic group of anthropologists, archaeologists, artists, linguists, and historians working in Guatemala. The best part of my job has been sharing all that I have learned to help create new and exciting experiences for other UT students who participate in Casa Herrera programs.
PB: What advice would you give to the newest graduates from the program?
MC: Be open to every opportunity and task that presents itself. Sometimes the most challenging situations can turn out to be the most transformative experiences.
Wed. April 29, 2015
Ultraviolet, on view at MASS Gallery, includes work by Ezra Masch (MFA in Studio Art, 2012), Tim Schmidt (MFA in Studio Art, 2011) and Amy Yoes. The exhibition was organized by Scott Proctor (MFA in Studio Art, 2007).
Recently, Ezra, Tim, and Scott answered our questions by email.
Scott, why did you decide to include Ezra, Tim, and Amy in your group exhibition Ultraviolet? What draws you to their work?
Scott Proctor: Tim and Ezra had the studio next to mine for a couple years at Artpost on Cesar Chavez. During that time I was able to see them develop as artists while learning a whole lot from them both. Time passed and we moved to opposite sides of the country.
I started to think about the sculptures they made while we were neighbors and the new work I have seen since they’ve moved from Austin. What excites me about their work and its evolution is how both artists give movement and life to inanimate objects and spaces using sound and light and/or the suggestion of sound and light. They create sculpture that is not kinetic by nature, but avoids being still.
Then I was introduced to the work of Amy Yoes, a Houston-born NYC artist that was using light and image in a totally different way than Tim or Ezra. Alluding to the unseen or exposed, these three artists have a similar interest in creating experiential works that use different approaches to technology to activate objects and space.
How has your work changed since you completed the Studio Art MFA program? Ezra, you recently did a project at the Icebox Project Space that is similar to your thesis project. Tim, you were casting concrete speakers.
Ezra Masch: I started working with sound, specifically using musical instruments, while I was in graduate school at UT Austin. We were right across the street from the Butler School of Music, and I was always taking breaks to play piano in the practice rooms. At a certain point, I realized that I was spending more time at the piano than I was in studio, so I decided to bring music into my art practice. I developed the drum project for my final review. I wanted to create an immersive audio-visual experience that connected the instrument to the performance space and challenged the musician to play with light and space, as well as sound. The project has continued to grow since then.
Tim Schmidt: The biggest difference for me between the work in my MFA thesis — specifically Historic Façade — and my current work is scale. The scale of the current work is definitely limited by the size of my studio, which I also use as a fabrication shop. Some of the work in Ultraviolet was actually made in my apartment in Brooklyn before I got a studio.
Tell us about your work in Ultraviolet.
EM: My project at MASS Gallery is different from my recent project at the Icebox Project Space in Philadelphia. It uses pre-recorded sound from jet engines. (The idea grew out of a previous collaboration with Alex Braidwood, a sound artist who I met at a residency in Iowa.)
The projections show the movement of a material's surface caused by air from the speakers. There's a relationship between the air pressure of the engine, the air from the sound system, and the movement of the image. I designed a two-channel audio loop that shifts the activity of sound and light back and forth from one side of the room to the other. I will continue to work with musical instruments, but I am enjoying this other approach to the audio-visual experience as well.
TS: This new work is derived, at least in part, from the work that I was making at UT, in that I’m thinking about the energetic or even metaphysical qualities of architecture and materials. The speakers were more of a muting of that energy, like Han Solo stuck in carbonite.
If I had the space, I would still want to cast everything in concrete, but living within the Brooklyn allotment of space helps to calm that urge. I do have a car, but I’m still imagining hauling bags of concrete on the subway.
Ezra, after you finished the MFA program, you moved to Philadelphia. What informed your decision and how did it impact the work you were making?
EM: I grew up in Philadelphia. When I moved back, I did so to be closer to my family. But I have found that the art scene is really strong here too. At first I was doing custom woodwork in historic Philadelphia homes, and that really influenced my ideas at the time. I had joined an artist-run gallery space called Tiger Strikes Asteroid, and we were invited to create a project at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
We produced an alternative audio guide to the museum, with a variety of sound-based projects by different gallery members. My contribution was a non-fiction narrative piece utilizing the museum grounds as a backdrop. It was a great experience to participate in this project, because it presented a challenge to try something new. It was also a way in which I could respond to being back home.
I’ve been involved in curating shows and exhibiting my own work at the gallery for a couple of years now. And I have been teaching at the Moore College of Art & Design as well. Philly has been good because there are lots of opportunities to show, and there's a really vibrant community of people doing exciting things.
Tim, how have you been spending your time since you left Austin and how has that informed your practice?
TS: I moved first to Chicago to be close to my family and got a job as a project manager for an architectural metal shop where I made a lot of very fancy things for very wealthy people, like shelf brackets that were $1000 a piece. When I took the job, I was a person that knew how to build things. When I quit after about a year, I was a legitimate metal worker.
Then I started my own business which began as an art-handling and crating business and became more of a design and fabrication shop. I made custom furniture and had some really good clients. I then moved to New York to work for an artist, which was a great experience, though I’m more comfortable working for myself, so a few months ago, I restarted my design/fabrication business.
I’ve also traveled to Vienna a couple of times, biked from Venice to Lubljana, Slovenia, rode bikes with a bluegrass band (and all of their instruments including upright bass) across Michigan and halfway back, and hiked the Andes in Peru.
Travel and design have always been influential to me, and now that I share a shop space with several designers, I am looking for ways to incorporate furniture and design into my practice as an artist. I used to compartmentalize art and design, but I’m becoming more and more intrigued with the place where the two meet. I’ve also been influenced by all of the things to do and see in New York and Chicago.
What was it like coming back to the Austin? Do you miss anything in particular?
EM: I miss my friends most of all. And the sunshine. And the food. I had such a good time on this recent visit, installing the show at MASS Gallery. Artist-run spaces are doing big things in Austin, and I'm so happy to be a part of it. My goal is to visit more often.
TS: Austin is a special place. I hope that I always have a community there, because I probably found more justification in being an artist there than I have felt anywhere else.
It is such a talented, supportive, and unpretentious community that is filled with people who create a rad art scene that wouldn't exist otherwise. Even with all of the changes that Austin and the university have gone through since I left, it still feels like home. I do wish I could have been there to take advantage of those new sculpture studios though.
Wed. April 29, 2015
Gloria Lee: It's been a long time! I will confess that I occasionally do check in on people via social media networks (yes, lame non-FB-embracer I am) and so I was really happy to learn of your move to New York and your design evolution these past five years. I last worked with you during your senior year, when you were working with both Donoho Designs and League of Technical Voters — both tech-oriented internships and rather radical for design students at the time.
How did your experience in the undergraduate program lead you to both those internships, and what relevancy does your experience as a student relate to your current position now?
Adrian Parsons: The program was really open to me following my curiosity and asking questions about the design of governments and constitutions. That investigation and research led me to discover the League of Technical Voters. I needed an internship to graduate, so I cold-emailed their founder and asked if they needed a designer. It was a slightly sneaky way to get involved in something I care about: "I'll make things pretty for you!" I ended up helping them create a coherent story about how they wanted the government to change — and I got to present it at SXSW, which was really cool!
One of my senior year projects involved designs for an iPhone app. The iPhone was really new at the time, but the design instructors were enthusiastic about integrating new technology and new kinds of interactions into our work. That project led me to working on an iPhone app at Donoho Design Group. When I moved to New York, the app we released at DDG served as a primary portfolio piece while I was job hunting.
One of the more useful things I learned as a student was how to work creatively with a group of people to solve a problem. I came out of school thinking everyone knew how to do this, but it's a rare and valuable skill. The critical thinking skills I developed and the ability to ask fundamental questions like: Why are we doing this? What are we trying to achieve? — are hugely important. In addition, the ability to see the possibilities in a situation — to look beyond the obvious and to question assumptions — is something I use every day. The mindset of embracing process over outcomes hasn't filtered into many communities and is one of the most important things I learned.
GL: Have there been any major changes or constants in your methods of practice over the years?
AP: I've really expanded my technical expertise (most of my day is now spent writing code). I love the problem solving aspect of it but also the power that comes with being able to build digital services from end to end. The creative potentials are endless.
From a design perspective, the thing that has surprised me about the workflow in startups is speed. We deploy changes to Meetup.com multiple times a day. We can iterate incredibly quickly. The other surprise is data, and how it informs the design process. We have 20 million users at Meetup, and about 1 million visitors to the site every day. We do a ton of split testing (A/B testing), and our design decisions are informed by patterns we see in these millions of interactions. It also makes testing very low-risk. If you have a crazy hunch that something would work better a different way, you can deploy it as a test to a few thousand users, get immediate feedback in the form of behavior and data, and iterate on it until you've confirmed or denied your theory.
GL: It sounds like you have found a really interesting way to start a 'side-project' with Orbital Boot Camp. Can you tell me more about your project, and also why you choose to go with Orbital — what was appealing (and different) about this think-tank/accelerator (I know, they really aren't an accelerator in the commercialization sense)?
AP: Absolutely. We're not sure what to call it either. "Pre-accelerator" is somewhat accurate, but it's hard to pin down. I had heard of orbital through friends — but it was ultimately a blog post by Fred Wilson (co-founder of Union Square Ventures) that convinced me to apply.
Gary Chou, the founder of Orbital, is really well regarded in the tech community. He's friends with John Kolko of the Austin Center for Design and an advisor there. Gary teaches Entrepreneurial Design, an MFA course at SVA in New York. We share a lot of the same values, and his deep understanding of the intersection of design, technology, and entrepreneurship is compelling.
My project is called The Lazy Philanthropist, and its an easy way to donate regularly to nonprofits. I found myself wanting to donate regularly, but not knowing where to donate (and not wanting to do the research to find out). I also found the process of donating — especially in smaller amounts — unfulfilling. I assumed other people had the same desire, so I created a subscription donation service. I'm still developing it, but it's been a really fun project and I've learned a lot from it.
GL: Any advice you would give to the undergraduates in the Design program, and in particular to the seniors?
AP: I never thought I'd say this, but it's been incredibly valuable to work in the business world, especially the technology sector. Partially because the landscape is shifting so quickly, but partially because the values and the working methods of the sector are so smart. You can have a lot of positive effect on people's lives and still make money.
Overall, I've had a lot of success working with people who are smarter than me. When I say smarter, I don't necessarily mean raw intelligence, but smarter in a particular skill or category. One of my colleagues at Meetup has an uncanny ability to distill difficult technical details down to important and actionable facts for engineers and non-engineers alike. Some people are incredibly good at conducting user interviews, motivating teams of people, generating press coverage, etc.
As far as overall career advice, I think it's important to understand and utilize your networks (and to facilitate new ones). You have a built-in network with the Design program, which will help a lot when you graduate (in New York, UT Austin Design alumni meet about once a month). Additionally, I went to a lot of tech Meetups when I lived in Austin and after I moved to New York. People I met at those events are still good friends, and have had a huge impact on my career. More than that, though, I've been able to find "my people", the people who care about the same things I do and who deal with the same problems. My network is great for my career, but it's even better for my creative growth.
Tue. April 28, 2015
Teresa Hubbard, professor of photography, and Alexander Birchler present Sound Speed Marker at the Blaffer Art Museum. The exhibition will be on view May 29 – September 5, 2015.
Sound Speed Marker was previously on view at:
Ballroom Marfa: February 14 – October 26, 2014
Irish Museum of Modern Art: November 28, 2014 – May 3, 2015
Fri. April 24, 2015
Founder of FEMICOM Museum, Rachel Simone Weil (MFA in Design, 2014) works with Rhizome to preserve work by Theresa Duncan. The project and work was featured in artnet news.