HyperMix

Natalie Hendren & JJ Faris

HyperMix explores ideas of interconnectivity between digital art, literature, and experimental sound design. This interview project aims to examine the process and influences behind the work of Mark Amerika and Ryan Ruehlan. Working both independently and collaboratively, Amerika and Ruehlan have created groundbreaking and innovative digital works including experimental sound design and hypertext narratives.

The Audience of the Future

Interview with MARK AMERIKA

Email exchange on April 29th 2016
Generally speaking, what in your life or in society has had biggest impact on your work?

The Internet!

When did you first begin to embrace interdisciplinary artwork consciously? In other words, was there a moment that you became aware of the interdisciplinary nature of your work or a moment where you consciously moved towards interdisciplinary arts?

Good question. This reminds me of one of my favorite quote from the artist Vito Acconci where he writes, "If I specialize in a medium, then I would be fixing a ground for myself, a ground I would have to be digging myself out of, constantly, as one medium was substituted for another—so then instead of turning toward ''ground'' I would shift my attention and turn to 'instrument,' I would focus on myself as the instrument that acted on whatever ground was available." This is good advice and suggests that being an intermedia artist who works across disciplines is what it means to be contemporary.

When you are creating your work are you focused more on the work itself or on how people will interact with the work?

E.L. Doctorow once wrote that "I write to find out what I'm writing about." You have to let the language speak itself.

What do you try to impart on the audience from your works? How do you think it will change their thinking?

I write for the audience of the future, the audience 100 years from now. William Gibson agrees. When he was writing Neuromancer, he thought, "I would write, then, to the audience I imagined in the future of my discovery by friendly if unimaginable forces, and to them alone."

When you are in planning and production mode, do you ever consider how your work will be shown? If so, how does this impact your processes?

Each venue has its own exhibition context so you have to be flexible.

What do you find to be most advantageous about working with digital art? How had your work benefitted from digital technology?

Digital art is malleable…you can always repurpose it for a variety of platforms and outputs…and the Internet creates an opportunity to investigate what Broodthaers refers to as "the field of distribution" ‒ in fact, he once wrote that "the definition of artistic activity occurs, first of all, in the field of distribution." For an digital artist who is also a writer, this is the first law.

Do you think that advances in technology will have an affect on your digital work? In other words, do you plan to evolve your digital work as digital technology evolves?

It's never a good idea to chase the technology. Back in the 90s, we invented the technology we needed to make the work we wanted to create. Now it's becoming more difficult to do that because everyone is locked into their proprietary mobile device.

How have recent developments in digital technology and internet culture affected your digital work? Have you seen a shift in your digital work to accommodate newer ideas, technologies, and iconography?

See above.

What has had the biggest influence on your digital work from outside of the fields of art, digital technology, digital culture, and literature?

Stand-up comedy.

How has science fiction and pop culture had an impact on your digital work?

Science fiction is to the digital artist what theory is to the language poet.

Do you ever work in collaboration with other artists and experts? If so, has there been a particularly fulfilling or successful collaboration?

I always collaborate. I never make anything on my own.

What genres and themes have become recurrent in your work?

Sex, ontology, language and whatever it is that contradicts the selfie as a real thing in the world.

All Platforms Feel Like Data to Me

Interview with RYAN WADE RUEHLEN

Email exchange April 29th 2016
Generally speaking, what in your life or in society has had biggest impact on your work?

two simple things:

1. growing up in vast, open space (rural Kansas) where I was left to my own devices to play without restraint and with very little resources: Growing up in a working class household I was encouraged to just use my imagination and what little I had around me to "play"; labor and play were always intertwined for me (and still is).

2. working with other people! collaboration is what has fueled my practice and solidified my working ideas/processes more than anything else. I spend about 70% of my practice in collaboration with other artists, so the compromises, cross-contamination and synthesis of perspectives has kept me from merely making work that is self-referential and lacking a viewpoint beyond my own. On a material level, the mass movement towards digital technology—when I was a kid and coming-of-age, analog technology was still the mainstay so I learned much about video, sound, and performance through analog means. When the digital boom really hit in the early 2000's it totally shifted what I had the capacity to do on my own terms (such as audio recording, video editing, etc). People take for granted the ease and DIY "room" that is allotted nowadays through digital means. Because I have lived in between these two realms equally, I am always counter balancing their differences and possibilities through out a project. I often ask questions such as, "what does this or that material privilege or remove?", "is this the best material to communicate this specific content through?", "how much room does a given material give me to explore?", or "is this just a habit based decision?"

When did you first begin to embrace interdisciplinary artwork consciously? In other words, was there a moment that you became aware of the interdisciplinary nature of your work or a moment where you consciously moved towards interdisciplinary arts?

I can’t say there was an exact time that I "became" interdisciplinary. When I was young I was trained on musical instruments traditionally, but just as early on I was really into writing poetry and drawing comics. In high school I was making horror films and playing live music. I also worked as the lead video production/editor for my high school and continued to write a lot. In late high school and early undergrad I was entrenched in the local DIY scene and was always fascinated by crude methods of doing anything, whether building my own gear or breaking things to see what they did beyond their intended usage. Also, in undergrad, I took up canvas painting learning to master the materials (eventually becoming a painting instructor years later), but still would be curating live music and performance events as well as making short films.

I lived in Chicago for years and worked as a curator for a small gallery and also toured music and made a lot of paintings and mixed media photographs. Through these many years, though, there was a schism between these various practices, as they all kind of maintained their own economy and usage: when I was recording an album I was one kind of artist, when I was painting in the studio I was another. When I got out to Colorado in 2009-10, I co-started a sound-performance art collective and that is when things started to really coalesce as one thing. Now, I don't differentiate much, I see things as projects rather than art forms, so materials are rather arbitrary to me (not meaningless, but rather, I have no hierarchy of materials, I use whatever is the best fit for an idea/hunch)… often times projects take on their own interior logic and persona, monikers develop, autonomous identities arise as a form of play…

When you are creating your work are you focused more on the work itself or on how people will interact with the work?

It really depends, but for the most part these two issues are wrapped up in each other every step of the way. Much of the work that I make requires some level of participation from others, so the effect it has on a viewer/listener/receiver and how they behave towards/against it is essential to the work. That said, I don’t necessarily try to let “how people may feel about a work” (in a generalized sense) determine what I do. Much of my process is based on hunches, deep curiosities, and idiosyncratic relationships to materials: its all in hopes to convey to others who may share similar curiosities or who, having come to experience it, become curious about the concepts behind the work. My philosophy on this issue is that: I am really not all that unique, so if I am intrigued by something then surely there are others out there who would feel compelled as well (even if their reaction and understanding of it is vastly different).

What do you try to impart on the audience from your works? How do you think it will change their thinking?

My work covers a range of conceptual parameters, but at the core is an impulse towards corrupting/re-imagining tools, raw materials, and every day commodities; so much of the work I present in public deals with how we live with objects/technology. At the center of most works is a desire to see beyond its pre-packaged understanding and usage and a need to relate to an object on unconventional terms. I often think back to Karl Marx, and later folks like Walter Benjamin and Vilem Flusser—they all observed the alienation of labor through mechanical and industrial means. In industrialized nations people are largely disconnected from the materials they consume, make, and "play" with. So much of what a person has to work with, whether its a lawnmower, a camera, a guitar, a smart phone, or a sewing machine, is perceived as fixed, but in fact everything has some element of mutability. I want audiences to feel that mutability when they experience various works.

When you are in planning and production mode, do you ever consider how your work will be shown? If so, how does this impact your processes?

Absolutely. How it will be shown is primarily the context of the work itself. Some work is made for a gallery, some is made for an alley, some is made for a cassette player in one’s living room. That is not to say that one kind of space is better than another, I find them all to be perceptual tools—the space in which the work situates itself is built in to the pieces’ affect and meaning. If I am working on a body of performances that will tour with my collective, I concern myself with open space, in that, I prepare the contents so that they can be performed in many kinds of spaces (this helps when one space has 3000 sq ft to perform in and the next night having a space that only allows for 400 sq ft). Personally, I am interested in modular methods of building and presenting. "Can I take it apart and fit it in a suit case?" is a problem I give myself all the time; this keeps me on my toes, it challenges me to remove unnecessary elements from a project and allows the work to live in divergent contexts. On the flip side, I also make work that is incredibly site-specific. A current project I am involved in is an ongoing hyper-textual, audio essay. The manner in which the reader experiences the work in strictly through an online screen, whether is a smart device or a computer—it is not meant to be handled in any other way. With this project the process has to include how other devices will "view" the work, and questions of load time, cache, and legibility vs. illegibility. These are constant issues that arise in the construction process.

What do you find to be most advantageous about working with digital art? How has your work benefitted from digital technology?

The Digital "sees" everything as data, so it is naturally cross-platform oriented. Digital means of production allow me to focus on an idea rather than material constraints or skill sets. The digital also gives precedent to "versions", meaning I am able to have multiple takes on a project or idea that run parallel or analogous to one another, and often at the same time. This has helped tremendously with tossing off habits, and drifting in the unknown or uncomfortable space between aesthetic parameters that allow a work to move beyond personal style or taste. Habits and taste are situational and often frivolous, so running several versions of an idea, in real time, ruptures that temporary impulse; this of course is in pursuit of making work that has significance beyond my current mood, skill set or influences.

Digital technology has allowed me to embed in both physical and immaterial objects meaningful information—this was something I would have never imagined being able to do earlier in my life. The fact that I can compose an audio work, put it inside of tiny media device and house it in a sculptural form for performances or installation has ramifications in my practice that I may not fully understand for years to come. I say this because it feels very embodied at this point in my life, all platforms feel like data to me—raw and with potential, able to be flexed and converted into something else.

Do you think that advances in technology will have an affect on your digital work? In other words, do you plan to evolve your digital work as digital technology evolves?

Sure. The manner in which technology changes directly influences how we (as a culture and beyond) think and feel. I am interested in that process, the schisms in that process, and what sort of behavior develops or disappears through such transitions. I am always skeptical of working with new tech though. I try to stay close to the pulse of its implications, usages (creative or just practical) and its novelties: but, novelty is where I become skeptical and to a certain degree, disinterested. The reason I continue to involve myself with "obsolete" technologies is not because I am nostalgic; it is because their novelty has totally worn off. When the tech’s novelty is gone, folks aren’t so quick to be enamored or shocked by the directive and the apparatus as it has been formally presented to them. Just because a technology is new doesn't mean I automatically get to make awesome artworks with it, I’ve witnessed some horrible work made with ground breaking technology (much having to do with the artist being seduced by its newness and not being able to see beyond it).

I plan to evolve my work towards cultural circumstances and relationships we have with technology, not necessarily the tech itself.

How have recent developments in digital technology and internet culture affected your digital work? Have you seen a shift in your digital work to accommodate newer ideas, technologies, and iconography?

There are small idiosyncratic things that have shifted, mostly my work flow, speed at which I can download or compress files, practical elements. I tend to do a lot of sonic field recording with smart devices these days, as I can be more spontaneous and responsive to my environment than I used to be able to be. Iconography: its fun to pass over and study sometimes, I consider myself an iconoclast often times; in that I am wanting to work beyond momentary trends and taste judgements. Do I enjoy or accommodate the aesthetics of internet culture? I think that’s a tricky thing to answer as it is by nature, rhizomatic and fractured; not to mention at this point so algorithmically controlled that an amazing amount of information that might influence me is out of reach, inaccessible.

I am interested in working with, and also terrified by augmented reality. But this to me is a philosophical interest. The ways in which augmented reality is taking shape in the commercial and academic sector is only one version of what it could mean. Its been fascinating and cool to see how augmented reality has concretized into smart phones (not so well) and now into contact lens prototypes (which, once again, are hard to market).

What has had the biggest influence on your digital work from outside of the fields of art, digital technology, digital culture, and literature?

Jazz, "unskilled" labor (which is a misnomer), furniture, urban signage/infrastructural anomalies, Sonic warfare, road trips…

How has science fiction and pop culture had an impact on your digital work?

Do you ever work in collaboration with other artists and experts? If so, has there been a particularly fulfilling or successful collaboration? All the time. Mark and I's techne_lab podcast comes to mind specifically. The Two best examples are ones that I am currently and perpetually feeding: Flinching Eye Collective (performance group), Shadowtrash Tape Group (audio art cassette label).

What genres and themes have become recurrent in your work?

  • noise
  • data
  • radio
  • performance as social rupture
  • fluxus
  • situationists
  • utopianism
  • affect/body
  • collage
  • informational listening experience