SRD puttering about: MFA studio in Process

About SRD

I am an artist, designer and educator recently based out of Philadelphia, PA but currently stateless. After many years of living in Brooklyn, NY, where I worked as an Interactive Art Director and Creative Director, I relocated to Philadelphia to refocus my energy on my art making and the art community in general.  

In Philadelphia, I co-founded an artist co-working and event space, Art/Assembly, with a focus on artist’s process and theory. With A/A I helped organize and curate a number of events, such as panel discussions on practice, process and state of the art community in Philly as well as Crits, workshops and more casual social gatherings, in collaboration with a number of other Philly artists collectives, curators and critics. 

 My art practice has always been multidisciplinary, touching traditional mediums such as Painting, Printmaking and Photography on one end, but consistently being rooted in the world of art & technology with a focus on Interactive art making (maker art) as well as video and sound installation works.

For the past few years, I have been working on a site specific installation series focused on the cultural losses caused by environmental degradation, specifically coastal erosion and sea level rise. I have also been researching and synthesizing the intersection of culture, environmental justice and postcolonial theory both through historical metastudy and hyper local exploration; in an attempt at gaining better footing to make work about the socio cultural, socio environmental  reality of the African Diaspora in the Americas. The questions I want to ask in every space I was in are for example:  Who was here before this expressway overpass; what was their life like; where did they go; why were they displaced; how were they displaced.
I want to talk about the mirage of their existence to reaffirm the reality of their lives and the destructive force of society on their lives, culture and history…

Originally from Haiti, a country which is the poster child of the catastrophic results of unwarranted environmental destruction on a people and their cultural heritage, I have long been interested in and challenged by experiences during my childhood in West Africa. My parents were humanitarian aid workers, whose projects were attempting to address the repercussions of the relentless and accelerating expansion of the Sahara desert, an early harbinger of climate change.  

Their work was concerned with the economic, societal and cultural ramifications of these changes, including hunger and economic attrition from the loss of arable lands, displacement and migration away from historical homelands to large metropolitan areas, medical conditions created by new parasites/diseases caused by rapidly changing environmental conditions, and the loss of cultural markers, such as no longer viable cultivars and rapidly disappearing plant and animal species which in turn altered the society’s relationship to its cultural heritage.

My parents were adamant that their children participated in and understood these challenges.

They sent us to live with families in rural Senegal to experience and live in the conditions the majority of people experienced; they had us participate in a variety of agro research projects as well as observe planning meetings, and vernacular technology workshops.  By being involved at a very young age in their work, I observed the causal relationships between human-fostered environmental destruction and the resulting massive cultural and societal reactions to those changes, whether it was the ethnic tensions that arose from the loss of traditional food crops and their connected knowledge and related stories, or the escalating conflicts between herder nomadic people and sedentary farmers due to the shrinking feed stocks available because of desertification.  In these trips with my father especially, we were constantly shown the alterations of the local landscapes because of unfettered but also hopeless human exploitation of natural resources, alterations which in turn disrupted the historical connection between the peoples stories and the historical and geographic markers of their ancestral lands –An issue of great importance in the cultural lore of most west african ethnic groups.

As a stateless young man of African and Caribbean descent in the United States, a lot of my early artwork was concerned with identity, gender and cultural self awareness as an émigré. Although these topics continue to inform my ideals, I have become eager to question and investigate, the construction,ideals, perceptions, and representation of western society in general, although I tend to target the hidden underbelly of society. The taboos, fears, hate, anger, lust, frustrations, hypocrisy, hidden self interests, and above all kinks which reveal so much about the priorities and insecurities of a society. 

 In the reality of our interconnected systems, I want to dwell on the particular contradictions that you will find whether you are examining sexual meurs, or observing the hypocritical behaviors of members of the society in relationship to environmental degradation and destruction.

In the reality of human caused climate change, I am fascinated with the apparent intellectual dichotomy that enables us to continue through the “normal” paces of our lives, refusing to alter our destructive behaviors, while simultaneously recognizing that we are activating the mechanism of our own worlds self destruction.  I am intrigued by the sexual meurs of people who profess clearly racist cultural and societal perspectives, yet casually participate in interracial sexual relations and fetishizing. I am interested in the willful forgetting of the dominant parts of society of the trauma and abuse 

At the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I was introduced to the intersectional powers of time arts, in general and DIY technology in particular. As I was solidifying my primary studies in painting and photography—the focus of my early art making—I was introduced to 4D practices which immediately captured my attention. 

I spent countless hours with material from the “Video Data Bank”, one of the most treasured resources at SAIC, which furthered my understanding of the flexibility, accessibility and potential of video, performance and sound art over their traditional usages in film, TV narrative storytelling and music.

In the Art and Tech Department, the computer video and interactive art classes enabled me to experiment with the wide array of tools for making art with bits and bytes, something I had played with as a child at home, on an Apple IIgs using the BASIC language, and later on a Mac Plus with MacPaint and Hypercard.  

In the Art and Tech Department I encountered interactive media (aka “multimedia”) from one of the important pioneers in the field, Daniel Sadowski, who also happened to be directly connected with the very early evolution of the web, and introduced the concepts, techniques and technologies involved in creating for the visual web at the very inception of this medium.  

This same professor was also instrumental in introducing me to very early versions of the video compositing tool After Effects—a creation of one of his friends—which today is arguably the most popular video tool in the world, a tool I spend the most time with when making my video work.

In the sound department of SAIC, I was able to experiment with this medium, breaking the boundaries set by music, finding new creative possibilities for myself.  Just as video art offered a rupture from the traditional form of film, “sound art” left behind the constraints of music, and allowed me to think of this essential part of the human experience in an interesting different way.

All of these experiences led to my initial break into a career as a commercial “computer artist.” At first, in video post houses, working on effects and graphics mostly for corporate Industrial videos, and through these same agencies into what was then the thriving CD-ROM authoring world.

As the industry veered towards the web and as the dotcom boom took off, I left Chicago for New York City, where I worked as an interactive art director in advertising, online publishing and a number of early web portals and social media platforms.

In New York, I kept working independently on video and indie film projects, helping on some interesting documentary and short film projects, including “Sangam”, “Farmingville”, “Connie & Ruthie: Every Room In the House”, as well as freelancing on a number of corporate videos, doing production, and post production work.

During this period, I continually worked on interactive and net art pieces, as well as collaborating on projects such as a design/photo coffee table book, “Sonneteer”, for the Chicago based publisher Front40Press, and making 14 video pieces which were both characters and set pieces for the opera “Still Life With Commentator” by Vijay Iyer, Mike Ladd and Ibrahim Quraishi. This opera was first presented at the 2006 BAM Next Wave Festival before touring extensively.

Moving to Philadelphia, I became involved with higher education, specifically at the University of Pennsylvania and at the University of the Arts.

At UPenn, I taught a number of classes both in design and art.  My design classes at UPenn have been focused on using the “design thinking” problem solving methodology, as well as more traditional visual communications. My class “Interfacing Culture” is a lab into both the method and the means of connecting different data/information streams to solve complex human challenges, such as providing better mental health services to students, and other social issues. Another was “Art of the Web” which gives a broad overview of the issues affecting the web and functions as a primer on the different fields/processes & methods used to create successful solutions for this medium. I have also taught design foundations class, an intro to Visual Communications class, an Intro to Video class at Upenn, and at UARTS I have taught UX, Web design and Web development courses for the continuing studies department.

Today I am at the University of Delaware working towards my MFA, and teaching an Intro to Video class, “Core Moving Images” to the schools art majors.  I took this opportunity to work on a secondary degree, so as to expand my teaching opportunities, as well as to refine and diversify my methodologies in the processes and conceptual development of art making. 

My studio practice in school is rapidly evolving in this focused environment, with the limitations of time and restrictions in context forcing a constraint and control of my normally split intellectual attention.  These conditions, despite being quite relaxed, seem to be helping me clarify my voice, as well as compelling me to confront the insecurities I fear about showing and discussing my work with others. The scaffolding of graduate school is incentivising me into defining the values of art and art making I hold dear; bracketing me with the intellectual rigor necessary to pursue the conceptual art making I am currently interested in, as well as teaching me to focus my attention on more situationally accessible results.