A Project Denied: 2016 Creative Catalyst Proposal

A good deal of my time these last few months has been dedicated to writing and re-writing my proposal for the San Diego Foundations Creative Catalyst Grant. I made a small error in the application process which disqualified my proposal. Instead of seeing my project collect digital dust hidden away in my computer I have decided to share it. So, here it is. 

Biography

Robert was commissioned in 2014 to use his electric wire sculpting to create a public sculpture in Washington DC. The resulting Memories of Production is a permanent part of DC life located at 401 M St SE, Washington DC 20003. Graduating University of New Hampshire in 2009 Robert has established his practice in San Diego, CA. Showing in Monarch Arredon Contemporary gallery and Alexander Salazar Fine Arts as well as on going national public exhibitions such as Art on the Street in Lafayette, CO and the San Diego Botanic Gardens.

Artist Statement

“The human mind faced with the uncertainty of the reality in which it exists creates myths.”                        –Aaron Frank, Singularity University

Throughout history both mythology and science have provided us with guidance as to the nature of our existence. It seems that people are bound to this search as is my artwork. Our ability to observe consciousness allows us to contemplate our place in nature. Often we see ourselves as other than nature and measure ourselves in relation to it. In my recent work I explore our relationship with technology, using it as a second reference point in identifying our human condition.

My art is a synthesis of hands on exploration of materials and observational exploration of modern society. By showing my hand in the work there is an inherent narrative of creation. This narrative aspect is deepened by the incompleteness of the forms which force the viewer to play an active role in the work. The raw material and use of patina ground the work in nature while the choice of industrial and digital mediums reference contemporary society. This combination of aesthetics work together to tell stories of human experience that discuss pervasive philosophical questions in a world that is rapidly being transformed by technology.

Project Concept

For two hundred thousand years humans have existed on the planet yet today is the most exciting time ever to be alive. Why? 

Perhaps it is because more can be accomplished, analyzed, and enjoyed in a day due to faster computing, increased data collection, and virtual social networks. Today, with accessible technological advances increasing at an exponential rate, anything seems possible. Yet, aside from knowing that different ages use technologies differently, we know little about the effects the changing technological landscape. Our generations are more or less constant, while technological generations are shortening. This phenomenon changes how we live, think, and interact, and provides people of different ages and different backgrounds with vastly different experiences with technology. 

The Internet and personal computer were not a part my early childhood in the mid 80’s in rural Vermont. Thirty years later, the Internet has connected the entire world, and everyone has a super computer in their pocket. Just last month, at my latest opening reception I watched as a 2 year old in a stroller swiped away for hours on her iPad. This little girl will grow up in a fundamentally different world than I did and will have a profound mental connection with intelligent computing technology. As a mirror for society, art must allow us to see anew the rapid integration of biological (human) intelligence and non-biological (computer) intelligence as one of the most intriguing and influential phenomena of our time. By looking at how we use technology we explore our identities and discover our place in the world. The time for this examination is now as we begin to see the next wave of life changing technologies.

The Creative Catalyst grant is an ideal platform for my interests in developing and strengthening the connection between community and art. My proposal aims to explore the interaction between technology, community, and individuals of different ages and how thoughts, feelings, and interactions are affected by technological innovation. The project will highlight technology as well as the interpersonal interactions that technology has made it so easy to avoid, first by bringing people of all ages in a community together with fun, artistic, and interactive activities (both hands on and techno-centric), then by creating micro case studies from observations of these interactions, and finally by creating interactive artwork that is inspired from the most salient and adaptable aspects of the connections. In doing so, I hope to highlight the implications of technology in early childhood education and development, elderly and end-of-life care, and issues related to the attachment to and self-identification with technological devices.  Grounding such a large subject in local community interactions will give the work an intimate quality and humanize the concepts, making them more accessible to any audience. The final presentation will be an open exhibition at a San Diego nonprofit gallery or museum and will include sculptures, installations, and possibly performances, all of which will incorporate some form of new media: video, virtual reality, algorithms, phones, etc. Using new technologies as a medium will make the art itself an interaction with technology. It will be the subject it discusses.

A clear challenge and opportunity will be developing meaningful relationships within the community of interest. This summer I developed my community building skills during the Gilliam Community Park and Gathering Space where I coordinated teams of adult volunteers and students from High Tech High Chula Vista and King Chavez High School. While constructing the playground, as an artist and lead builder, I witnessed the willingness and excitement of the community to work with artists like myself. Upon completing the Gilliam Park project I realized that whether my work ends up in public spaces, museums, or private galleries, public participation during the process adds an important new layer to my work.

The Creative Catalyst grant would provide me with funds to purchase materials and consult with specialists, offer me a platform to expand my audience and my own credentials (which is crucial to an emerging career), and give me a connection with a non-profit sponsor that would help facilitate community interactions and boost confidence in my project.  Funding from the grant would allow me sufficient time to document, study, and find creative freedom and inspiration in these interactions and experiences, a luxury that is not found in galleries and public projects.  I believe, with the freedom this grant would allow, I can effectively explore, expand, and progress my art practice and contribute to the connectivity and cultural growth of San Diego.

The projects scope will require the entire twenty thousand dollars the grant offers. Four thousand will go to the nonprofit sponsor. I expect six thousand to cover the costs of materials and equipment, hiring of videographers to help document and offer expertise, as well as the shipping and installation of the show. Leaving me with a ten thousand dollar stipend for the time and energy of designing and facilitating the community interactions as well as creating the artworks.  

One example of a designed community experience that could enlighten my work might be an interaction between middle school students and senior citizens. Young and old could sit across from each other and draw one another for a short time. An exercise of looking that uses art to connect generations. Performing the exercise with pencil and paper and then with iPads will offer some perspective on how the tools we use change how we see and make. A follow-up conversation about their experience and perspectives on technology will document the effects of the experience and will provide content for my own artwork.

A second interaction could be based around a cutting edge virtual reality system.  I am curious what the unadulterated creativity of young children will think of the experience. How will they see this ‘other’ space? What will they imagine it could be? Likewise, I wonder what near retirement age adults will think especially given the likelihood that these experiences will be widely available during their elder years. These interactions, and others, provide a platform for dialogue centered on current technologies and allow me to witness various types of engagement. The insights gained provide a datum to understand technologies influence on society and collectively create a narrative from which to sculpt.

Work Samples

Deep Mind

Memories of Production

Artifact

Nonprofit Sponsor Selection

Casa Familiar

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Oceanside Museum of Art