Olde Time Magic: An Exclusive Interview with Dave Gordon

Dave Gor­don

Dave Gor­don is a dig­i­tal artist, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, ani­ma­tor, and sculp­tor whose work  S. J. Cham­bers wit­nessed first­hand at the Charles Riv­er Muse­um of Indus­try & Inno­va­tion dur­ing Inter­na­tion­al Steam­punk May 6 – 8th.  The exhib­it, Vir­tu­al Kinet­ics and The Art of the Image, takes a mul­ti­me­dia explo­ration through the his­to­ry of pho­tog­ra­phy and ani­ma­tion, to cre­ate an inter­ac­tive and mag­i­cal expe­ri­ence between the view­er and the work. Many of the pieces play upon form and are not what they first seem, like Zosel, which at first appears to be a sta­t­ic carousel with hors­es.  At the bot­tom of Zosel is a crank for the view­er to turn, and sud­den­ly the three lit­tle fig­ures stand­ing in the fore­ground, and that are hold­ing what appears to be flow­ers, begin emit­ting light from their flower bulbs, and the hors­es all begin to gal­lop. It is quite clever of Gor­don to put the “mag­ic” in the view­ers hands, because it breaks the “fourth wall” of gallery-going in which one quick­ly takes in a piece and is afraid to get any clos­er than a few inch­es from it, for fear of being yelled at by a docent.  But in Vir­tu­al Kinet­ics, you are encour­aged to touch, and when you do so, you are reward­ed with a mag­i­cal and nos­tal­gic expe­ri­ence unlike any­thing gleaned from sim­ply look­ing.

Zosel, Dave Gor­don.

Orig­i­nal­ly sched­uled to run from April 23 through July 5, muse­um-goers have been so enthralled with Gordon’s ani­mat­ed instal­la­tions, that Charles Riv­er extend­ed Vir­tu­al Kinet­ics’ stay through the end of August.  If you are in the Waltham area, you can’t afford to miss this unique exhib­it.  If you are not in the Waltham area, you can get a sense of Gordon’s work through his web­site which fea­tures images and videos, some of which are shown in this inter­view below.   We’re glad that Gor­don was able to sit down with us here at Vol­ume 2.0, via e-mail, to dis­cuss what ani­mates him and his art.

The Steam­punk Bible:  What is your def­i­n­i­tion of Steam­punk?

Dave Gor­don:  Steam­punk in the visu­al arts is a blend­ing of mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy with Vic­to­ri­an tech­nol­o­gy and Vic­to­ri­an style.  The Steam­punk aes­thet­ic often empha­sizes the expo­sure of under­ly­ing mechan­ics and elec­tron­ics, some­thing I’m very inter­est­ed in as a way of mak­ing all tech­nol­o­gy more acces­si­ble.

Zosel, Dave Gor­don.

The Steam­punk I enjoy the most employs tech­nol­o­gy which actu­al­ly does some­thing.  I can appre­ci­ate gears glued to gog­gles but I’d much rather see gog­gles com­bin­ing a mod­ern laser range find­ing sys­tem with a watch gear con­trol sys­tem.  As far as I’m con­cerned, the best Steam­punk art com­bines Vic­to­ri­an and con­tem­po­rary tech­nolo­gies cre­at­ing some­thing usable and under­stand­able that was not before seen or pos­si­ble. This is what I try to do in my own art.

SPB:  How long have you been involved/interested in Steam­punk?

DG:  My cre­ation of what could be called Steam­punk works pre-dates my aware­ness of Steam­punk.  Since around 2000 one of my inter­ests has been using mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy to explore and rein­ter­pret ear­ly indus­tri­al art and tech­nol­o­gy.  Around 2006, I dis­cov­ered Steam­punk and real­ized much of the art I was pro­duc­ing fit this aes­thet­ic.  My art hasn’t emerged from an inter­est in Steam­punk, rather I and the mem­bers of the Steam­punk com­mu­ni­ty share a set of inter­ests.

SPB:  Who and what with­in Steam­punk influ­ences your work?

Zoe­cy­cle, Dave Gor­don.

DG:  A lot of my influ­ences pre­date the emer­gence of Steam­punk as a spe­cif­ic art form. I am heav­i­ly influ­enced by the artis­tic move­ments which emerged dur­ing the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion such as Futur­ism, Sur­re­al­ism and Dadaism.  Zoe­cy­cle is an elab­o­ra­tion on Mar­cel Duchamp’s Bicy­cle Wheel (on a stool) and the ani­ma­tion it shows is inspired by the work of Sal­vador DaliMuy­bridge is almost too obvi­ous an influ­ence to men­tion.  Fritz Lang’s Metrop­o­lis is visu­al­ly stun­ning and pro­vides amaz­ing insights into the time peri­od that pro­duced it.  I love to read old sci­ence fic­tion and am fas­ci­nat­ed both by the ways it has pre­dict­ed and failed to pre­dict our present.  The Machine Stops by E.M. Forester is a won­der­ful exam­ple of Vic­to­ri­an sci­ence fic­tion that remains rel­e­vant in the Inter­net age.

More con­tem­po­rary influ­ences include Ter­ry Gilliam whose visu­al aes­thet­ic in films like, Brazil and 12 Mon­keys first made me think about the expo­sure of tech­nol­o­gy as an aes­thet­ic.  I was inspired to do phys­i­cal ani­ma­tion by the amaz­ing work of Gre­go­ry Barsami­an.  With­in the Steam­punk move­ment the work of Jake von Slatt has been par­tic­u­lar­ly influ­en­tial.  See­ing his key­board and LCD mods, as well as his doc­u­men­ta­tion on the builds, led me to make my first specif­i­cal­ly Steam­punk pieces.  What I love about his key­board and mon­i­tor is that unlike many oth­er Steam­punk com­put­ers, they don’t feel like they’ve been dec­o­rat­ed so much as re-imag­ined.  Even if they weren’t part of the Steam­punk move­ment, they’d present a unique com­put­ing expe­ri­ence that would stretch the aes­thet­ic enve­lope.

SPB:  Your work looks at an art form we take for grant­ed now, ani­ma­tion, and you break it down to its ori­gins through ref­er­ences to the pho­tog­ra­phy of  Muy­bridge and the ani­ma­tion tech­niques of the zoetrope.  What inspired you to break down ani­ma­tion back to its roots?

DG:  In a word, Muy­bridge.  He used banks of still cam­eras fired in sequence to cre­ate plates of still pho­tographs show­ing very short sequences of motion.  You can’t break down ani­ma­tion more than that.  What I did was to recon­nect mod­ern prac­tice with its his­tor­i­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal roots.

In re-exam­in­ing the tech­nolo­gies for cre­at­ing arti­fi­cial motion which pre­date film I also saw aes­thet­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties which are unavail­able using mod­ern tech­niques.  This lead me to re-imag­ine the zoetrope  using micro­con­trollers and LEDs to cre­ate three dimen­sion­al sculp­tur­al ani­ma­tion that incor­po­rate the best prop­er­ties of the zoetrope.  This includes a tac­tile con­nec­tion to ani­ma­tion that comes from hand spin­ning the art­work.  There is a speed at which spin­ning still images sud­den­ly become ani­ma­tion and it is dif­fer­ent for every view­er.  It is a mag­i­cal moment and my pieces let the view­er con­trol it.

SPB What is your process when you start cre­at­ing a kinet­ic piece?

DG It real­ly depends on the piece.  Gen­er­al­ly I start with a broad con­cept and allow my imag­i­na­tion to take flight.  I think of all of the cra­zi­est things that might pos­si­bly work or be cool based on that orig­i­nal con­cept.  Then I start to think about the mate­ri­als that I actu­al­ly have avail­able to me, the things I actu­al­ly know how to do and the prob­lems that I might face try­ing to make these crazy ideas real.  One might think these lim­i­ta­tions would result in art work which is infe­ri­or to my flights of fan­cy but the oppo­site is true.  I find I often find art in my lim­i­ta­tions.  The process of strug­gling with lim­i­ta­tions and prob­lems chal­lenges me to refine my con­cepts and results in art work which is gen­er­al­ly more stream­lined and effec­tive than my orig­i­nal con­cept.  One of the things I like about mak­ing Steam­punk art is that it intro­duces a new set of con­straints forc­ing me to refine my work even fur­ther.

SPB:  What is it that you want peo­ple to take away from your work?

DG The peo­ple who are com­ing to see my show Vir­tu­al Kinet­ics and the Art of the Image at the muse­um are incred­i­bly diverse.  I get six year old chil­dren, Steam­punkers and eighty year old engi­neers.  It is ridicu­lous to expect them all to get the same thing out of the show.  There’s no one thing I want them to take away from it.  Peo­ple can approach my work as art, as inno­v­a­tive tech­nol­o­gy or as an edu­ca­tion­al tool… or they can just enjoy the flash­ing lights.  I hope that most peo­ple will have a good time and expe­ri­ence a sense of won­der and when they do, it’s very sat­is­fy­ing.

Peo­ple can approach my work as an artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tion between two artists, sep­a­rat­ed by over a cen­tu­ry.  They can learn about how we use pix­els to cre­ate still images and still images to cre­ate the arti­fi­cial per­cep­tion of motion.  They can even use my exhib­it as a way to explore the his­to­ry of tech­nol­o­gy.  I’ve tried to make my sig­nage sup­port all three of these approach­es but frankly, most peo­ple don’t read the signs and that’s fine.

SPB:  What has been the most reward­ing aspect of your one man show at the Charles Riv­er Muse­um?

DG:  The muse­um has a func­tion­ing Vic­to­ri­an machine shop, work­ing with the muse­um vol­un­teers on that equip­ment to adapt my inter­ac­tive art­work to sur­vive the rav­ages of chil­dren was both an edu­ca­tion and a plea­sure.  I have some won­der­ful mem­o­ries of peo­ple in out­landish garb oper­at­ing my devices dur­ing the Steam­punk City Fes­ti­val.  I got to give a tour to a group of Japan­ese school girls.  If I had to pick a moment as most reward­ing it was prob­a­bly watch­ing a father explain to his very young child how per­sis­tence of vision and ani­ma­tion worked using my stro­bo­scop­ic sculp­ture Zoe­cy­cle.  He did it entire­ly in Russ­ian, which I don’t speak, and I was still able to fol­low along per­fect­ly and see the look of under­stand­ing in his son’s eyes.

From the very begin­ning there was a remark­able chem­istry between myself, the muse­um, and its com­mu­ni­ty.  What was intend­ed to be mere­ly a show evolved into what was effec­tive­ly an artist res­i­den­cy fol­lowed by an exhi­bi­tion that has now been extend­ed twice from 2 to 5 months.  My art has changed as a result of hav­ing a show at the Charles Riv­er Muse­um of Indus­try& Inno­va­tion, I’ve gained new skills, new con­tacts and new friends.

“Olde Time Magic: An Exclusive Interview with Dave Gordon” was published in Art, Interviews and tagged , , .

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