SFPC Wrap Up

    Things got a little wild at the end—final crunch week, three days of standing and talking to people, then suddenly residency week and we're left to our own devices?? We cleaned up, we taught workshops, we we're asked to imagine 10 week to 25 year plans (Taeyoon bringing those Real Life™ skills as always). I shooould've immediately written all my thoughts, but it was dreamlike and I was enjoying being in the soup, so here's a mashup-wrapup of the end days.


  I'm pleased with what I had up for the showcase—the mounting and lighting worked out fine and making sure I had six done was a decent amount. (I'll be making a page for the piece with more pics & things) Almost all of my work these days goes straight to instagram so thinking about physical presentation was a nice change, and for these in particular the point is their physicality. I also am not used to being able to see people see my work! Seeing reactions, seeing people move on quickly or lingering and talking really made me feel like an ~artist~ in a whole different way. I was both responsible for this object and supposed to have answers (why I made it, how long did it take, what's the point) but also able to see it released into the wild where people would just take pictures and reinterpret. It was incredibly tiring (especially for my Super Introvert Self) to be around for so long, but really worth it. The semi-collaborative nature of the project was more rewarding than I expected; I pull from my own life often to talk about identity, so to have other people relate & get excited helped validate what I was trying to do, and then sharing that in person with people who might not have thought about identity online completed the piece in a real way. Going forward I am definitely thinking about how I might want to talk about my work and not just toss it into the internet ether.

   SFPC being over I'm sort of forced to think about the future in general. After much deliberation I am starting my MA in the fall at Columbia—but unlike the crushing experience of college my art will be both a part of and counterbalance to my studies. Through SFPC I even feel more at home in the city overall—I've made friends and connections, seen how people Make It Work. To that end I'm actually joining the SFPC residency month, where I'll be working on a graphic zine I hope to submit to small presses before the end of the summer. [I'm also available for commissions 8) ] 

taco night organized by yours truly

taco night organized by yours truly

    I learned many very tangible things at SFPC—how to code in a new language, basic hardware skills, what's a good artist statement—but I think more importantly I got re-excited about doing stuff. I like learning & being critical, I like tech-shit and art in a very vague sense, but had no concept of where to go with that. Art felt like an impenetrable nightmare hustle, code felt like tech bros. I was at a slump in my life where I was pretty unhappy but pessimistic about what I might do better. Being around and supported by folks from all over, from so many careers, at different points in their life was a reminder of how key community is. Not just for the support, but to see that there are so many ways of being in the world and you can change if you need to! (you'd think as a trans person I would be better at that but y'know ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) SFPC people want to share their skills, and you realize you have skills to share too. Mid-session Zach went down to the MIT Media Lab for a potential position there, and when he came back he said it was a great experience but "they had no kitchen." It's a simple thing, but for me encapsulates why SFPC feels like more than just a school—there's a level of care that's hard to find much of the time. To combine that with an expansive and rigorous curriculum is truly an impressive feat.

   I'm very grateful to have been selected for the session—the work that goes in to "curating" the participants is equally key to the feel of the space. If you are thinking of applying don't hesitate to reach out with questions about more concrete things than woo woo good vibes review heh. I am going to carry all of the things I learned with me, but for sure the real gift is the people. 

Bodies, Blood, Belligerence

    Not only does SFPC have some really exciting teachers, the TAs are all involved in interesting work too! Ann is the critical theory TA, and was also a student last session and so has invaluable insights into the final exhibition process. Her final project was this Blood Battery: 

In many cultures ‘blood’ represents familial or cultural connection; it is a synonym for belonging. As a mixed race woman, I am often confronted with questions about my racial authenticity.  And the purity (or lack thereof) of my blood is used as a metaphor for why I should be included or excluded from certain spaces. (read more)

Who Will Feed Us When You're Gone?. Blood, glass, copper, zinc, stainless steel, cotton, rubber, wood, foamcore, vinyl, LED light, electronic circuit. (2017).

Who Will Feed Us When You're Gone?. Blood, glass, copper, zinc, stainless steel, cotton, rubber, wood, foamcore, vinyl, LED light, electronic circuit. (2017).

     I really love how bodily confrontational it is. It's not immediately consumable but forces a potentially uncomfortable double-take. I think this can be very difficult to accomplish in (new) media art (especially interactive work) as inadvertently there is often a little awe or whimsy in just the construction of it. Phil recently tried to make a game that was a bit of commentary on the common connection between new technologies and the military, but by virtue of being a game it's just naturally a little fun. How do we provoke other emotions? Another reason I'm particularly interested in the Blood Battery is because I've been unsure how much "tech" I want in my project, and it's helped me think about how I want to use tech to say something in a way I couldn't without it, but I don't want to make something about tech (not right now anyway). The Blood Battery looks like all wires and glowing red but they're not what make it interesting, the blood is. 

     People do expect a sort of frustration with technology the way one expects it of government bureaucracy—think the post office, the dmv—but it's because the printer is jammed on something important, or the website wont load for the tickets they want. There's a larger end goal than game points. Moving to New York I was thrown in a fresh transgender hell of finding a new doctor, new pharmacy, a horrible therapist encounter, weird state laws, etc. just to maintain myself, and I've been thinking about how to share that experience but am running up against this wall of "how do I make it interactive but unfun." Can I harness the frustration of a broken echeck-in machine to talk about the frustration of a broken medical system. If it's too unfun people wont interact, if it's fun they've missed the point. Maybe make the unfun tangental to the actual experience? Like a game that mangles your name or your avatar no matter how many times you edit it. Actually that's a pretty accurate metaphor for how I move through the world I guess. 

     But thinking of the blood battery, I want that bodily feeling. That sort of fascination/horror that I feel coming from stares in public, repurposed for my own satisfaction. There's always questions people want to ask a Real Live Trans Person, and being that I'm aggressively out I try to be open to having to do trans 101 so that so other folks don't have to be, but of course I don't always relish it. Medical questions are to be expected, and so I've been considering how I might make something with the needles I use for weekly intramuscular injections. They are long, an inch and a half, and unforgiving if inserted incorrectly. They've become mundane to me but only through sheer force of will. Being a craft packrat and that they're a pain to dispose of (find your local biohazard sharps accepter) I have every one I've ever used. That I can mark time by these injections got me thinking about trying to make a calendar.

     The other thing with starting HRT (hormone replacement therapy) is that even within the community it becomes this marker of time. How long have you been on T? Before and After pics? How long till your voice dropped? Understandably too, it's a big shift, and my first year it very much felt like something I was "doing," like it took daily energy to rebuild myself in this weird and unexplainable way. Now in year two there is some settling, some acclimation. The thing is, I'm never going to be "done." If I want the effects of T, I can never stop taking it. This is true of many medications*, and an odd burden to bear. There's also frustration in wondering "what if I had started sooner?" like there's all this time I can't get back. A calendar of needles seems like it could both express this weight of time that rolls over me some days but also be that confrontational bodily answer. I like that for other trans folks it could be a kind of acknowledgment, a commiseration**, and at the same time say to cis folks "look! yep this is it!" I am also thinking of the history of LGBT art, and in particular artists working with blood and bodies to discuss the AIDS crisis. That sometimes we have to be a little exhibitionist to tell our stories.

confirming the needles are decently conductive

confirming the needles are decently conductive

     I'm not exactly sure how this would work or what it would look like. Ann suggested that since the needles are metal maybe they could be used to close a circuit, which I really like, but they'd have to be running in parallel not serial. Or maybe they are in serial and the joke is the light at the end will never light up. I am thinking maybe some sort of display that has how long it's been but also a countdown to the next shot. I have all my little empty vials too and would like to incorporate those somehow. The imp in me wants to just stuff fairy lights into them & string them up in some ham-fisted commentary on what people expect of masculinity and what I actually want.

     So I don't know. This sort of style of art is very foreign to me, and especially thinking about making art that heavily relies on the concept behind it I get bogged down in "is this interesting? even if it is, interesting enough to do more than talk about but actually make?" But coming from illustration where I don't even know if people read the instagram captions it's also exciting in that it is expected there will be an explanation. If not this hopefully I cobble together something else worth asking about. 


*I have very incoherent mental mumblings about who takes on medicating themselves in not clear-cut illness cases; for example cis women taking various birth control methods with side effects deemed unbearable to cis men. in a world where gender was never forced on me to begin with, I wouldn’t have taken on transness 

**obviously not all trans folks have any interest in medication! (and like, cis dude body builders shoot up more T than me) also hopefully obvious I'm speaking less to the experience of trans women; though shots are an option pills are an equally effective method (oral testosterone so far not as much, though there is gel). I think in some ways the normalizing of the 'medicalization' of transness actually helps hold up cis gender visions, but this is a larger topic for another day. It is a difficult balance coping with now and hoping to create a different future. 

reCode: Vera Molnár

     For Zach's software class (I know! learning OF with a creator of OF!!) we're taking a week to focus on an artist's work and what sort of techniques they favor, and then individually recreating a particular piece (or at least a piece inspired by one). It's a cool approach because no matter your level with coding you can figure new things out and come back to discuss it in the group. 

     The first artist we looked at is Vera Molnár, an artist starting in the 50s exploring pre-computer computational art and then later on with early computers (she has a show up at MoMA till April 8th). Her work varies from stark geometric shapes to more intricate patterns with a sort of contained random element. To do that by hand seems time consuming but not necessarily difficult, and oppositly using a computer you get a result very quickly but suddenly have to be much more intentional and precise with instructions. An example:

Molnár's original

Molnár's original

my iteration

my iteration

     In Molnár's original one immediately grasps that there's red squares being maybe "stamped," but not in a way that perfectly lines up. My initial starting attempt used a simple for-loop inside a for-loop to generate a grid of squares, but with a little x/y jitter in their actual placement. Not quite right, I noticed there is always a little horizontal overlap, and only vertically do gaps appear. Adjusted accordingly, I was pretty content, but the original still has an oddly more organic feel and whole rows are shifted so that while overlap is preserved, the larger square has a rougher edge and tilts. Some folks also noted the texture of the squares themselves—something possibly not even intentional but just the nature of using paint on paper as a medium—and tried to recreate that. Through this mimicking and repeated looking I really grew to appreciate the original more, and while sketching from a master oil painting is very similar in this way, it's not something I would've thought to try with more geometric art where rather than just copy visually you are trying to find an underlying method. In copying you are also temporarily freed from being visually creative and able to focus on "skill" in a way I think under-appreciated but necessary. Now (over)confident, I wanted to take a stab at this piece:

molnare squares.jpg

     This one needed a lot more pre-planning. Because the lines eventually become squiggles I didn't think I could just draw squares made up of four lines that shifted vertexes or something, so what I ended up doing was making an object that was a vector of points* that when drawn looked like a square. My thought being that by using noise (rather than pure random) the dots would shift and the overall effect would be a squiggly line. That is not what happened. 


     The lines disintegrate quite rapidly and left to its own devices the whole thing buzzes outwards like a hit beehive. Because each point has no computational relation to the point next to it the visual line is lost. I tried again:


     The lines stay together, but too together. Also mysterious still artifacts appeared. After looking at Nabil's project where he used p5.js and found a way to alter a line itself (turns out you can add vertexes basically) I decided maybe my vector of points was fundamentally Not Right. Which is sort of a hard truth you have to sometimes accept with code—maybe you brute forced something together but sometimes you still have to toss it all out. Feeling appreciative of the original and with lessons learned I just left it there though. Our next artist is John Whitney, who is going to involve significantly more time and sin waves to figure out.  

"Porting" not-code art into code art is an interesting medium adventure, but even from one coding language to another helps emphasize the different structures and "givens" unique to various languages. For a really cool deep-dive, 10PRINT looks at an early Basic program and (among other things) some of its modern ports. It's not a terribly technical book so I'd recommend to anyone: free pdf. Zach's class was in part inspired by a similar sort of project from this old zine. if you are a bit technical & curious, my code mess is on github. I don't know that I'll get too detailed about each artist but thought something light-hearted was in order (and either way I'll push the code).


*basically a list of (x, y) items. I had originally used an array, which in openframeworks you have to define the length, but switched to a vector (more like a shopping list, as long as you want it) because smaller inner squares need fewer points.