Low-Residency MFA: Letter from the Assistant Director
I remember being gifted my first piece of computer art. The occasion was my birthday, the artist was my dad, and the celebratory message was in the form of an ASCII banner printed on greenish continuous form paper. He worked the overnight shift as a computer operator and a programmer, wore a lab coat and gloves, and spent his time going back and forth from a cubicle in a room heated for human comfort to a very chilly room furnished with a massive computer and one huge printer. I saw the rise and fall of magnetic tape, punch cards, huge floppy disks, smaller floppy disks, zip drives and optical discs during his tenure at his job. My first computer was from Radio Shack, a Tandy TRS-80. I remember learning BASIC, making screen text scroll toward infinitude, and thinking that the logic of IF/THEN statements could be applied in my everyday processing of IRL situations. Dad was the first person to sign his handwritten letters in leetspeak ("Love, d4d") decades before new media artists (myself included) adopted the practice for their monikers. His bookshelf was lined with programming textbooks as well as comic books, science fiction, literature, and books from the New Thought movement. It dawned on me that boundaries between languages are flexible, that human language and machine language can move fluidly around one another. It seems that programming systems, whether those systems are composed of organic material or otherwise, is still a part of my academic and artistic DNA.
My undergraduate studies took me from engineering to chemistry and math, landed me a third shift gig at IBM, which financed a design degree, and ultimately pulled me into a career at a creative production house for a decade. I was able to see photography's transition from the physical dark room to the digital. After a few years, my focus moved to video where a small team would see a project from concept design to web implementation. This was my first studio, located in the after hours of that production house, furnished with the best licensed software and image making equipment on the market. When I decided to return to school for an MFA, I brought all of these paths, tools, and interests along with me and landed safely in the theoretical and practical arms of art and technology. Post-MFA, my interests keep one foot in the history of technology and cybernetics while keeping all other limbs firmly planted in the posthuman future. My continued research leads me through paths that reconfigure the body and its senses through abstraction, and reimagine the origin stories that create these n3w_b0d1es. Through computational expression and electronic art, I'm perpetually seeking to tease out images I haven't seen, arrange sounds I haven't heard, and perform behaviors that seem impossible to impose on an organic body. My projects have made use of many different techniques including 3D modeling and printing, robotics, various programming languages, custom hardware and software, and design, all working in service to an idea. I understand that tools can be just an inspiring as concepts, and that most art happens where the two meet.
I began teaching in multiple departments at SAIC in 2011 and was invited to join the team of core faculty in the LRMFA program in 2015. My first summer residency with the LRMFA Program can be best represented by my connection to students. Though I appreciate art in many of its forms, I worked closely with students who were interested in exploring the program's poetic mission through interactivity, generative models, and the poetry expressed by new media and technology. The next two fall semesters were spent teaching online seminars where systems and cybernetics were studied, analyzed, and critiqued in course discussion boards. In the spring of 2016, I introduced an online course focusing on remote studio practices that appealed to students interested in making web-based work, as well as students who would benefit from learning strategies for representing the mobile studio. In my first three years as LRMFA faculty, I've worked with students who have had little to no experience with non-traditional media and theories, and have watched them emerge as graduates of the program with a set of tools for thinking and making to add to their hybrid studio practices.
The Low-residency program recognizes the flickering boundaries between disciplines and interests in the contemporary art world today. Going one step further, we challenge students to synthesize seemingly unrelated ideas into a robust practice. This is and has been the catalyst for processing ideas in my own studio practice. As an artist and thinker focused on art and technology based concepts and practices, I enthusiastically invite you to consider our themes of Attention, Sensation, and Perception through the adventurous lens of computational expression and experimental studio practices.
Lee Blalock (L^2)
Assistant Director, LRMFA
Assistant Professor, Art and Technology Studies