Meeting with Potential Mentor

IMG_2815Last Thursday (15), I met with a potential mentor for Fall, 2014. Conor Peterson is an active new media and digital artist, currently working as a visiting professor at UNM. I first met Conor when Shaurya Kumar and I were working on his fresco series at the Mattox studio center, when Conor was still a grad student.

Conor works with issues of technology and the “cosmic sublime,” using hardware and software to generate visual experiences. He is currently working on a piece for the ISEA conference in Dubai.

Before meeting, Conor had gone through some of my images, read a couple of recent papers and had familiarized himself with how my work is headed now. I was also able to view my animations as large-scale projections for the first time (yay!) thanks to the video projector system at the Mattox. More on that later.

Conor asked a number of useful questions and made several astute observations that echoed what I’d heard at the residency, what Leslie and I have talked about this semester–and he also came out of the far left field with a few really intriguing ways of looking at future work.


  • Loves the color palette in my traditional print work and was happy to see it gradually returning in the digital work. He encouraged me to keep blending the video blue and my original color set.


  • Another title, (besides The Cascade), might better inform the viewer of the project’s rich television back-end. What if i switch to the working title of the Horizons sub-project: Horizons in the Digital Desert, or How Johnny Discovered the Secret Air Base? Just something to consider.


  • Bigger works. The large-format projection was ideal. Conor didn’t find the smaller, still images as compelling as the much larger animated or still projections. In fact, he could envision an entire room of engulfing projections, a la Jennifer Steinkamp. It was really amazing to see them blown up and moving for the first time, occupying looming space in the room.


  • The animations/projections are compelling. More work needs to be done refining them. Conor  even suggested making more parts move–rather than thinking of them as subtly changing 2D stills, as I had been. He can show me several programming methods to make them behave more like animations than slide shows. One thing I did notice, thanks to projecting them large, was that the program I used to do long, overlapping cross-fades was quite literally fading the screen subtly to black between stills. This marked an important discovery. On a video monitor, the change was nearly invisible. Large-scale it became a problem that I’m now working to fix. If we get to work together, we’ll spend most of our time on projections.


  • Conor has an (admitted) bias against still images on photo paper. He comes from a photography background and has obviously moved in a different direction with his own work. He wasn’t as interested in the smaller stills on photo paper, asking me instead whether I felt obligated or required to make objects in physical space simply because of my background and the system itself. For him, the photo paper prevented entry in a way that projections, animation and even straight paintings did not.


  • Along with the above comment, he did very much like the photographic stills that had slight surface manipulation, which took it away from being just stills on paper. Though he and Leslie liked the opposite manipulations best.


  • The transparency experiments were briefly interesting, but he almost immediately came to the same conclusion I did: they’re behaving just like Photoshop files, digital images and projections. What’s the point of making them physical when they perform just fine digitally? Is it that old attachment to the object again? Making the object for the sake of the object, to show I “did something”? Not necessary.


  • He found the in-progress painting and the collaboration piece really compelling. He even joked that I might find it surprising, given his focus. There was something happening in both paintings that made use of digitality, but didn’t end up getting confined to photo paper–they also weren’t simply mimicking the digital surface (where digital could simply perform better). He felt strongly that I should investigate more painted adaptations of the digital elastic-space. They may end up being in my thesis show, along with a projection (or under them).


  • Am I always bringing work back to printmaking, drawing and painting because I feel obligated to (folded into the digital works)? Or, does it lend something to the overall concept and reception? Conor suggested that I may be feeling required to bring the obvious hand into the work, or to bring print back into every digital piece in a direct way–and that in many cases, the digital pieces don’t even need it. I’m still hanging on to the 2D, traditional way of looking at work manipulation, at “validating” the digital with the traditional.Coming at the pieces fresh, from an outsider perspective, he didn’t always feel the hand added anything to the concept, or his reception of it (which was utterly out of step with what everyone else has said–and by that turn, really fascinating, especially since Conor both appreciates “the hand” but has never been a slave to it). He also suggested that the inclusion of print and drawn layers provide the sense that I am inserting myself back into the work directly, perhaps too obviously.He didn’t say I should stop doing it–or that it wasn’t aesthetically or conceptually pleasing. He just asked me to consider why I was doing it and whether it was coming from conceptual need or a sense of obligation to previous ways of working (and to the establishment).This is more than just a project-related question. It’s almost a “why am I here?” inquiry. Am I really bringing things back to print because that’s how I’ve been programmed? Hmm…


  • The combination of projections and stills will end up being very important. Conor even suggested that digital frames (like the ones Bill Gebhart used last semester) could perform similarly to the on-paper works, without becoming fully static. They could also be arranged in any sequence or stack and could cycle through animations. He just wanted it to be clear that repeating the same moments found in the projections as stills on paper may not be necessary at all.


  • If the videos contain the same moments as the stills on paper, why include both? If I include both, what is vital about each version?


2 thoughts on “Meeting with Potential Mentor

  1. Kiera McTigue

    Sounds like it was a great meeting, and definitely seems like he’d be a great option for next semester! I’m honesty dreading finding a new mentor, but hopefully things will go more smoothly this time!

    1. plasticpumpkin Post author

      I think he’ll be a solid resource for the hard nuts n’ bolts of video / new media production. He won’t be as helpful for the 2D side, I suspect, but at least he’ll keep me asking if I’m laboring under the yoke of a particular medium “just because.”

      I have to say I dreaded it as well. I really, really enjoyed working with Leslie and I’ll be using her again for Spring, 2015. I’ve been afraid I won’t find someone else as insightful or helpful.

      I really hope your search for a new mentor is fruitful and smooth this time. You dealt with such a crummy situation last time! 😦


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