SIMBIG50 Alumni Panel Series

Our first panel in this series occurred online April 16th, 2020, 5pm – 6:30pm.

Socially engaged practice and pedagogy. Art in a state of exchange.

Alumni guests : Kevin Clancy, Lewis Morris, Polina Protsenko, Brooke Scibelli
Moderated by: Camila Bohan Insaurralde
Produced by: Max Azanow, Monica Chaing, Keith Jones, and Nita Sturiale

This Alumni panel discussion kicks off a series of events celebrating 50 years since the Studio for Interrelated Media was founded by MassArt Alumni and Professor Harris Barron.  Since the original planning of this celebration and this panel, a pandemic has changed our lives and the course of history. Undaunted, the SIM community – students, staff, faculty and alumni – have come together to reinvent how we produce our events. SIM Alum Keith Jones and Monica Chaing used their production experience to innovate the panel online using Twitch and Zoom.

Even during this challenging period, MassArt is celebrating several milestones. This year is the 150th anniversary of the Massachusetts Drawing Act of 1870 that required free drawing skills to be taught to public school students. This Act led directly to the founding of Massachusetts College of Art  in 1873. 100 years later in 1970, the first cohort of the SIM department, founded by Harris Barron, took the ZONE Immersive theater on tour combining sound, light, performance and story-telling. In the 50 years since, the SIM department has continued to experiment with art education and artistic practice. With MassArt’s public mission as a foundation, the SIM program has encouraged students to playfully expand creativity by all means necessary – via technology, live event production, and social intervention.  

Q and A:

(Riff) How did you sustain relationships and collaboration found within your education in sim after continuing on? And how does that play into current work

(K.C.) Time and distance are real factors, and you have to continually work to keep your relationships strong and active. I moved to Pittsburgh about nine years ago, so I do feel slightly removed from the larger SIM / MassArt community, but I have definitely maintained relationships with a lot of people, and SIM continues to invite me back every few years. Identify the people and communities you care about, sink your heart into them, and put in the work to stay in touch. I do think it is easier if you stay in Boston, New England, or the east coast. This extends beyond SIM / MassArt, continually be present in the scenes you most care about. This will give you life, inspire and strengthen your work, and help you with your career and opportunities. SIM is a great model community, and I still hold lessons from 

(Nori)  How do you approach your art work strategically through a socially engaged lens and how do you determine effectiveness?

(K.C.) My work explores the effects of rapid technological acceleration on society, both at a personal experiential level and at a macro social level. My earlier works were more textbook Social Practice, people gathering in temporary, deployable, architectural social spaces. My newer works still aim to build portals that give glimpses at potential futures, but it is expressed and communicated through objects, installation, and environment. I am present, but also removed. I attempt to make work that distills my experiences with technology, experiences that I think are quite universal at this point. I try to use this universality as an entry point for my audience. I think people see themselves reflected in these objects, either literally in a reflective radiant screen or in the familiarity of a gesture or feeling. I hope to build a sense of solidarity through these gestures, and to provide a safe environment to sit with some uneasy examinations of our culture. I have always struggled with quantifying effectiveness, but it is most easily felt in person or in a comment section when someone clearly resonates deeply with a gesture, and when that portal actually takes them to a deeper understanding of their own experience. Often, I don’t get to experience the depth of a viewer’s reaction to the work, so there is an element of trust that my experience of the work will translate. Sometimes the work will evolve over time based on how the audience reacts or interacts with it.

(Ja’Hari) I feel like a lot of ppl who have interrelated media practices work with some kind of technology. As a person who’s practice includes sculpture, performance I’ve found the transition difficult because my work is made to be experienced with others. Any advice on how I can continue to work on these new platforms without losing the core of my practice?

(K.C.) I am very much in the same boat, and would recommend a dual approach. 1) Use this time to unbuild, rethink, and refine your practice. What are the elements that are necessary? What is the most simplified and easily transmitted essence of your practice? What materials, tools, and methods of display are available to you? Think about how your practice can exist and evolve within these new parameters. 2) Use this as a time to make sketches, material studies, proposals, performance scores, renderings, etc. so that you can hit the ground running once your familiar practice returns to you. We will all have to rethink our practices for a period, and ideally our work actually gets refined with new parameters. The most important elements get distilled and strengthened. Ideally, we wind up making stronger and different work even once the world returns to “normal”.

(rosa_lux) What is something that gives you a sense of hope going forward as an artist in these times?

(K.C.) I mentioned it in the panel, but I’ve been thinking about Naomi Klein’s Coronavirus Capitalism – and How to Beat It alot during since the stay at home order. It isn’t quite hopeful, but I think there is power in addressing the reality that some ideology will fill the void of this moment – it will either be a wishlist for the ruling class or it will be a moment of massive change for popular ideas that were unthinkable even a few months ago. It is scary, but it also gives us agency to fight for the things we care about. I have no shortage of hope in the deep well of our communities, but the real challenge is if we can overcome the ills of our society. I have to believe that we can.

(rania0kdf)how do you balance your time at work (if you aren’t a full-time artist) with time dedicated to art-making/furthering your career as an artist

(K.C.) It is definitely a challenge. For many years, I worked as an art installer at the Mattress Factory, which while it was hard to maintain this balance, it was still a job that satisfied me creatively, taught me new skills, and introduced me to great artists. I have been working in home improvement for the last two years, and while it pays more, it really drains me. I have a great studio right now, and I spend every free moment I have there, so part if it is just about discipline. Treat your studio time as the job you want, and always try to incrementally tip the scale until you are spending more time working in your studio than at your day job. It is the dream when you can secure a grant or commission that allows you to be in the studio full time. It is still a challenge for me, and it often goes in waves. My main advice is to be very thoughtful about your money work, so that it supports your practice, doesn’t drain you, and allows you enough time to do your real work. John Waters had some good advice in his RISD commencement speech that stuck with me, “But how can you be so disciplined?’ friends always ask when I tell them my job is to get up every day at 6 a.m. Monday to Friday and think up insane stuff. Easy! If I didn’t work this hard for myself, I’d have to go work for somebody else. Plus I can go to my office one room away from my bedroom in my own house dressed in my underpants if I want to.”

(sandrineschaefer) How are you coping with the inability to gather physically in this moment when it is such an important part of the work you make? Are there examples of virtual gathering (besides what we are doing right now) that have inspired you or helped you reimagine how your work might gather people differently in the future?

(K.C.) It’s really hard. I had a very socially distant winter, working on grad school applications and in the studio, so it was really hard for this to hit right as I was hoping to enjoy Spring and catch up with friends. I think I am still in the frustration stage, but I am working on how to cope and adapt. My current work is about the rapid acceleration of technology and its effect on our bodies and social fabric, so it has also been a good time for reflection on my work, and where I want to take it next. I have been looking at work that both goes further into virtual realms and work that distances from screens and reconnects with the body and the earth. Some works that I have been looking at:

(mr_hotlunch) How has your journey of learning new skills developed and changed outside of a formal environment like college, when resources are not readily available to you?

(K.C.) The process has been pretty much the same, it is just a little harder. I had to figure out how to navigate and access the resources at MassArt over time, who to go to for specific things, and how to problem solve creatively when there was an obstacle, so all of that translates to the post-MassArt world. There are super knowledgeable people everywhere who usually want to help where they can. A lot of my access to resources post school has been through favors and barters with friends who have access to certain facilities. I also try to write for grants to support most of my projects, so I try to pay my friends for their professional services when I have a budget. I think grant writing is a crucial skill to learn as early as you can, but you can also pay/barter with a friend who has those skills, and then start to write it into your budgets. I always make professional documentation a top priority in my project budgets too. Aside from the work itself, I think documentation is one of the most important elements to representing your practice and getting better opportunities.

(keagandfault) how did you begin to look for a community after leaving SIM

(K.C.) Immediately after graduating from SIM, I did an internship at Creative Time in NYC. I met a lot of great artists, curators, and fellow interns who would go on to great things in the next decade. I still look to these contacts 10 years later. I did a residency right after that at Keleketla!Library in Johannesburg, South Africa, which helped to develop some international community. We have stayed in touch over the years, but it has been harder to utilize those connections because of the distance. I came back to Pittsburgh after my residency because I was broke, and Pittsburgh was extremely affordable at that time (I paid $150/mo for my first room here in 2011). I found my community in Pittsburgh by working as an installer at Mattress Factory, a world-renowned installation art museum, which had a regular stream of amazing international artists coming through town. I also started going to lectures and openings at Carnegie Mellon University, and started befriending MFA students there. Once I had some friends in the CMU MFA program, I would start to meet the new class each year as they came in. I have a lot of contacts from that over the years, and I was able to get something of a free, vicarious education from their program. It’s a small city and art scene, so I have assembled a pretty big community after being here for ten years. The main piece of advice I would give is identify the communities you want to be a part of, go to their events (virtually at the moment), be present, confident, and generous. I think I wasted some years not being confident in myself and my work, so just go for it, life is short.