Interview: Tyler Calkin
Luca Curci talks with Tyler Calkin during THE BODY LANGUAGE at PALAZZO CA’ ZANARDI and at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
Tyler Calkin is an interdisciplinary artist and educator who examines the interactions between social experience and technology. He uses gameplay and performance in a digital context to both design and critique virtual and augmented reality, digital fabrication, and moving image work. His work has been exhibited and performed across the US and in the UK, Germany, Mexico, Nepal, China, and South Korea. He received his MFA from California Institute of the Arts and is currently Assistant Professor of Art and Area Head of Digital Media at University of Nevada, Reno.
Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Tyler Calkin – For me, art is about asking questions. I start with an observation or a curiosity. Then I create a visual experiment to either answer a question or, ideally, arrive at a deeper one.
LC – What are you currently working on?
TC – I am currently collaborating with a choreographer and composer to explore the translation of social gestures into other forms using motion capture data analysis, 3D printing, performance, and electronic sound.
LC – Where do you find your inspiration?
TC – I pay attention to how we use our bodies when we interact with other people and with technology. I am interested in how these social interactions morph and shift when we hold screens in our hands and our pockets.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
TC – Several years ago I began making sculptures from objects designed to fit the human body such as gloves, helmets, and even mouth guards. I was interested in how we shape our material environment to fit us, and how this material environment changes how we behave. As my work has evolved, I have begun to create forms – both sculptural and digital – directly from the human body and its movements. Throughout, my aesthetic has largely remained colorful and, I hope, visually approachable. Social interactions and physical intimacy can be uncomfortable subject matter, and I use bright colors, humor, and playfulness to invite viewers in.
LC – Do visitors’ suggestions enrich yourself and your art?
TC – My work is often made in direct response to or collaboration with others. In my performative work, I use surveys and collect visitor feedback to create archival documents and inform the work’s future iterations. I also utilize my own social networks in a sort of reverse data mining to create artworks that illustrate the digital relationships I have with those around me.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this exhibition? How is it connected to the theme of the entire festival?
TC – Digital Manual Movements consists of two videos that explore bodies communicating and miscommunicating. The videos deal with the translation of a foreign language into body language and the conversion of physical gestures to digital artifacts. In both cases, the human body performs social actions; in A Transliterated Intimate Mechanics Tutorial these actions follow the faulty directions of Google Translate, while in Micro Gesture Party Mix they are natural movements recorded from volunteers and represented as colorful, animated geometric forms. Beneath both works is an appeal to the value of the human body as a way to speak to others. This body language changes when technology intervenes, and by highlighting and exaggerating these changes I hope to turn attention to our contemporary situation.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this festival? In which way did it inspire you?
TC – Body language is a complex theme. Both verbal and nonverbal languages are communicated through the body, and the body itself also has its own subconscious vocabulary. This festival was an opportunity to take two specific works that I had exhibited previously, and find connections between their concepts and visual qualities. Ultimately, I arrived at the act of tracing lines through space as a central unifying concept.
LC – What is your idea about ITSLIQUID Group?
TC – The art venue as a networked communication platform is a very contemporary vision. ITSLIQUID Group is helping to connect international artists and audiences, and increasing accessibility in the arts is a valuable mission. I also appreciate the metaphor of liquid, saturating art discourse and visual culture and connecting locations in a shared medium.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
TC – I certainly enjoyed learning about this festival and becoming a part of your exhibition platform alongside such a diverse, international group of artists.