2021 Joplin Project


Most recently my practice has focused on the phenomenon of a smoke explosion in its billowing transience of implied violence. 9/11 and the Ferguson riots are two recent historic smoke-filled events of terrorism and social upheaval that were an impetus for my primary research. Correggio used clouds illusionistically in his painting not as background but to serve as radical other figures to subvert space, material and image.[1] My mirrored smoke clouds on architectural glass, render an installation of ephemeral objects that hover above, while reflecting and surrounding the viewer; the encounter itself also stages a disappearance as the image is not fixed.

The Joplin Project is an extension of these ideas but has evolved into a fully immersive video installation, based on the namesake tornado of 2011. I begin with this natural disaster as a starting point: the Missouri devastation was the deadliest, multiple-vortex tornado in recent history that obliterated 9,000 structures of culture and society in a total of 38 minutes. Its width span was all-encompassing, rotating in a one-mile radius.

For the installation (planned for a multi-location stop, specifically in planetariums),a tornado hovers in the space in slow motion to suspend a monumental storm in mid-air. The encounter is created through an all-encompassing, large-scale video projection of a 3-D surround animation. The viewer is situated in the center to replicate the experience of being in the eye of the storm. The tornado spins slowly to morph into a constellation of cultural debris from other cultural clouds. Specifically, the “information cloud” is imagined as amore subversive entry into violence. Our current threat is not only natural disaster but that of our own collective making (our vast internet data spinning above us in the air). I would like to deconstruct the cloud into an exploding constellation of information violent and beautiful simultaneously. The tornado as nature “shredding human culture” has deepened as I expand the information data to examine the experiential scope of “terror” in the global underpinnings of warfare.  

In the destructive interior space of a rotating column of air, the material image will disintegrate and whip in 360-degree motion through all the wall surfaces, in symphonic, whirlwind-like effect, and collapse the space into silence. As described in my narrative, much of my work has been about the removal of terror in reverse; or the removal of our familiar societal structures (sculptural, cultural, informational) towards absence. As quickly as the tornado comes and wrecks the site in time-based media, it evaporates, leaving the viewer with a residue of blankness.

Central Figure/Swaying Sentinel:

My work also expands upon the history of sculpture no longer as a fixed, central object but an iterative, social architectural space that engages the viewer in a constructed phenomenon of the tornado. In the center of the space, a mechanized robot projects the image, and is also dictated by the image, as it choreographs a slow dance in response to the storm. The central figure then not only is implicated in the history of figurative sculpture and questions the power of verity of the image, but through technology, this weather vane/fallible wizard of oz/swaying sentinel has become the future already past.

Research with different Industries, Think Tanks, curator: Imagining Interiority of Violence/Eye of Storm:

I have been working on this project for the past two years with the generous support of (2) University of Pennsylvania research faculty grant, as well as with the support of Project 61 and Utley’s Inc (fabricators), conversations with the Sachs Arts Innovation Program, and more importantly, collaboration efforts with Glass House curator, Cole Akers. Our first conversations were about developing this idea within the newly renovated Sculpture Gallery onPhilip Johnson’s Glass House Estate, and now the project has evolved to a multi-tour of installations within natural history museum planetariums. These sites seem more suitable within the context of a natural/technological disaster.Also, Correggio’s fresco, Assumption, depicts a cast of characters in a vortex of clouds, that was painted specifically within the cupola of the Duomo in Parma, Italy: strikingly the same architectural structure as a planetarium.

The first grant (SURGG) I received, assembled students from different departments to create an interdisciplinary think tank. The research funds allowed me to collaborate with electrical and sound engineers, computer programmers, digital renderers, and architects to render the epic tornado experience as a 4-D immersive form of sculpture. I’ve been researching different interdisciplinary methodologies of evoking the violent storm. I am also trying to understand the morphology of a tornado by filtering its patterns through different technological and image-making mechanisms.

The Threat of the Information Cloud: Research with Jigsaw (Google’s Information Security Division):

The metaphor of the tornado is the starting but not the endpoint as a means to deepen my understanding of terrorizing a system of information technology. I am implementing the cultural technological terror of DDoS attacks (“distributed denial of service”) to imagine a data tornado. DDoSis defined as a collective hacked internet attack that can overload a single system into a fog-shut-down thereby suspending its information from existing: a virtual silence ensues. I’ve been examining this digital warfare phenomenon in order to synthesize the natural disaster of a tornado as a collective catastrophe in a globalized communication sphere. 

I have been in conversation/collaboration with Google’s Jigsaw security division with multiple visits to their NYC headquarters:  in order to understand how the digital structure of DDoS attacks comprehensively shuts down a large swath of communities and threaten privacy. The attacks serve as a catalyst for chaos and civil disobedience.  We are currently analyzing the number data on their digital attack map data, and plan on importing the numbers of particular hacked attacks into an algorithm that will determine the movement of our image-making mechanism/robot. This mapping (detailed in terms of geography, number of attack, rate of movement in households/individuals affected) will be then used an algorithm to intersect with my rendered/physically produced moving image and the relationship to the robot. The mapping will determine the speed, rate of shredding, as the image spins and rotates through the space. The data will also help determine the nuanced movement of the objects into a spinning a deteriorating spectacle.

Interactivity between figure and landscape through robotics:

As a sculptor, I’ve been interested in the relationship between object and space, figure and ground, viewer and experience, so I’ve been considering how the internet changes that fundamental relationship. The physical image and sound projector as a central figure in relation to the site (and future spaces) and the audience, much like our relationship to the computer screen, acts as an“information” or image-provider to its viewer. In the studio over the past couple of year, I’ve built and destroyed several physical apparati that would hold the psychological phenomenon of “information” as a quasi-sentinel.

In my studio, I have come upon a structure inspired by flight simulation, and have designed a mechanism/sculpture that considers how image is affected by technology and how technology affects image or the viewer’s body. This mechanized structure will act as the central sculpture/figure: a robot that will move in relation to the image, while taking cues from flight simulation software. The components of the structure involve (6) linear actuators and a steward platform that will be engineered to move in relation to the tornado movement (image projection). On top of the platform will be speakers and projectors that will house the images and sound. The linear actuator legs that can lift a flatbed of speakers and projectors, and can rotate and move like a body. The structure is so sensitive and nuanced to movement that it can be programmed to balance a marble to rotate on its platform without falling.  

SOUND “Column of Air”:

A composer and sound designer will expand on the morphology of the tornado’s structure and meditate on the sonic language of “column of air.” Rather than appropriate tornado sound, I’d like to riff off the language of how a column of air or even this experience of disruption might be interpreted in collaboration with a composer/sound expert—in the extremes of silence and violence—in order to build an experimental composition. One central sound source will be streaming out of the speakers of the central robotic sculpture. I’m collaborating with Eugene Lew, a sound designer and Joshua Hey, composer, in order to create two soundscapes that bring it back to the human voice and other instruments borne from the body (anti-digital but also anti-idiomatic) but also an idiosyncratic composition of sound that will heighten its strangeness. The music will also offer an alternative language to the digital landscape.

Broader Cultural Landscape of the Joplin Project and Future Research:

My work expands upon the evolution of sculpture no longer as a fixed, central object but an iterative, social architectural space that engages the viewer in a constructed phenomenon. With this project, I’d like to continue examining my interest in the image of invisibility and silence, and how the extremes of silence and violence operate through the mediums of sound, image, and space. I’m interested in operating between the tension of beauty and terror in order to expand our own humanistic, existential questions of Now.  

As it pertains to the long-term picture of my research and its relationship to a sculptural practice, I feel strongly that this research is the culmination of former investigations of mine in relationship to the broader dialogue of sculpture and object-making. I believe this research will serve as the seed project in which to break new ground for my work and bridge sculpture, technology, media, architecture, and robotics, spectatorship into one space. I’m interested in how these systems can infiltrate and activate other spaces or “bodies” to create an immersion, where there is no physical sculpture, but the viewer leaves with a more impactful, sculptural experience.  

[1]Hubert Damisch, A Theory of /Cloud/:Toward a History of Painting. Stanford University Press, 2002.

-Guggenheim Project Proposal, 2019

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JOPLIN PROJECT (working title)
In Process: research photos and robot in production with UPenn engineering and Utley's NYC, Guggenheim fellowship.
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