Andrew Blanton Wants to Teach Dallas to Make Art from Technology

Andrew Blanton
Andrew Blanton

The Goss-Michael Foundation wants you to bring your laptop and cell phone and set up shop at their gallery tonight. And while you're at it, use both to create some art.

They're even bringing in a lecturer to teach you how. Artist, musician, editor and activist Andrew Blanton will give a lecture on technology and interactivity in contemporary art. It's also a rare hands-on-experience for anyone wanting to learn the basics of interacting with the world around you, and the technology next to you, to create expressive artistic statements.

Blanton is originally from Denver but is working on an MFA in New Media at North Texas. His work tackles the ephemeral nature of data and its effect on the virtual world. Is Skynet self-aware? Do androids dream of electric sheep? Starting a dialogue, even a pop culture-laden one, is one of the goals of Blanton's work.

Take advantage of his tutelage while he's here. His MFA Thesis exhibition, "Panoptics," will show at the Oliver Francis Gallery from March 23 to April 6, before he takes residence at STEIM (STudio for Electro-Instrumental Music) in Amsterdam, Netherlands later this spring.

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We had an email email exchange about art, technology, and cultural the future of Dallas.

By using technology as a way to mine new sonic landscapes, are you suggesting traditional instruments have reached their potential for new developments? No, not in the slightest, I just really like the extended sonic pallet. You have to keep in mind that I was, and still am, a classical percussionist as well as a "new media artist/composer." I really enjoy acoustic music, electro acoustic music and electronic music. I had worked with acoustic instruments for so long and one day I found myself wiring up my marimba to see if I could trigger other sounds while I was playing. For me, getting into technology was a very organic extension of the work I had been doing in the acoustic world.

Do you think that this could be the first step toward technological singularity within music? Setting in motion music with no (human) maker? I think you would have to ask Ray Kurzweil! But really we have the tools today to build software that writes music. It was the premise of a work I just completed that is based on the famous Franz Schubert piece, "Der Erlkonig." It's a story of a ghost that steals a boys soul while his father raced him through the woods on horseback, my rendition/mashup of that was to build software that wrote the notation and performed the work on a Disklavier (think modern digital player piano), exploring the ghost in the computer.

Andrew Blanton, "m¥ ƒ¡(R)§‡ s±Áß --|----‚ " digital collage, 2011
Andrew Blanton, "m¥ ƒ¡(R)§‡ s±Áß --|----‚ " digital collage, 2011

It's refreshing to see an artist take a first-hand approach in sharing their process with others. Motivations? You know, one of my former professors would say that the age of the artist going into their studio, working countless hours and presenting their finished masterpiece are over. I fully embrace DIT (Do It Together) culture. I fully believe in community engagement and I believe we have the most to learn from each other. So creation of work, for me, is all about building community, collaboration and learning from others while sharing my knowledge base.

Cell phones are already a source for sexual, social and educational self-empowerment. Is artistry and musicianship next? Fundamentally my question is, can we can push a cultural dialogue through this new ubiquitous computing? Cellphones are a part of that, but, so are the massive networks of censor data that we interact with every day. Can we start a critical dialogue around these devices and hack/repurpose these devices and systems for art creation? I personally think we really need to think critically about how this stuff plays a role in our lives, art applications are a way for me to have that dialogue.

Your iPhone app, StandaloneV1, produces audio-art through the user cupping their hands around the end of the iPhone to shape sound waves and create music. How far can this concept go? I am very excited about this work. I began by prototyping this work on computers then ported the idea over to cellphones. I am getting ready to release some new versions of the app which manipulate the feedback loops in new ways. For me, there are two sides of the app. The first is the physicality of being able to touch the sound waves and filter in real-time with your hand. The other, which will become apparent with the release of the other apps, is that when you put multiple devices together you can create a feedback based sound environment.

Your piece, "m¥§tic †aløn," dealt with the post-9/11 U.S. war on terror. What emergences do you see your artistic advances making in the discourse of war? I think it's a dialogue that we as a society need to have. Where is the accountability for our government's actions around the world? And are our actions creating a positive, or negative impact? I think about the importance of art and music to create real world change. Take Ladysmith Black Mambazo for instance, their performances took Apartheid in South Africa head on, and helped diffuse the pain and hatred of that time while embracing peace. I find that inspirational and I think it is a model that all artists should be taking note of.

What are some steps patrons can take to be fully prepared upon attending the lecture? Go to cycling74.com and download Max. Go to puredata.info/ and download PD, and go to troikatronix.com and download Isadora.

You leave for Amsterdam soon for further studies: What's the greatest impact Dallas has left on you and your thesis? Thankfully my wife, the wonderfully talented Morehshin, and I will be coming back to Dallas in the fall. But it has been an absolute pleasure to work with the iArta Cluster at the University of North Texas, and David Stout. It's also really interesting to see the work of Ira Greenberg at the Center of Creative Computation at SMU and to see the grass roots art community take shape at Oliver Francis Gallery. And it will be interesting to see how things take shape with Roger Malina's work at UTD. I think the work of Michael Corris and his push for community engagement at the Meadows School of the Arts is also very interesting and important. My question for Dallas is, will it embrace these modest beginnings and help these centers thrive?

Blanton's workshop is from 7 to 8:30 tonight at the Goss-Michael Foundation, 1405 Turtle Creek Boulevard.


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