new jersey artists

The Future of Art

Vita Eruhimovitz is an Israeli artist currently living and working in New Jersey, whose work is inspired by her background in computer science and bioinformatics. Vita's concepts behind her work are based on artificial intelligence and her fascination with human-object relations. She explores these topics through different mediums such as sculpture, painting, drawing and interactive art. Each idea seems to find its own media, all of which are sure to challenge, educate, and engage her audience. 

" The Chatting Room " Installation at Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum 2015

"The Chatting Room" Installation at Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum 2015

A:  You seem to have made working across different mediums work for you, I have heard mid career artists and art educators talk about the importance of honing in on one media and perfecting your skills at it. I am wondering if you had struggled with this idea and how you made it work for you. 

V: I’m still not sure whether I made it work for me yet. I have heard the same opinion quite often, never liked it and still don’t believe it has to be true. Right now I am working to establish a sustainable cross-media practice and I hope that soon enough I’ll be able to say that working in multiple media from the very beginning worked for me. It surely is easier to focus on one medium, both in logistics of the work and when presenting myself as an artist, but this just isn't the way that I work. My art is really more idea based and every project finds its own medium and material. This way I can work on the same project in video performance and sculpture at the same time and for me, it cannot happen otherwise.

A: I am curious as to how you developed the form of the Wobbly-Bots for the Chatting Room installation. When you sketched out these forms did they stay true to your sketches or did they sort of form as you were making them?

V: It’s interesting that you are asking this! Usually my work takes form as I am making it and ends up being very different from the  initial intentions. However this project ended up very similar to my first sketches except for the foot part. The foot became much more sculptural and cartoon-like than I intended at first. Otherwise, the structures were really consistent with the way that I planned them, which is pretty unusual for me.

Wobbly-Bots are robots that resemble some sort of playful creatures. Each bot has a microphone,speaker,sensor and small computer inside. They are designed to engage in conversation with the audience and once the viewer has walked away, the Wobbly-Bot will continue to have conversations with the other Wobbly-Bots.

A: The foot part is so interesting, how did you come to that form and does it have a specific meaning behind it?

V: Yes, definitely.When I made the first Wobbly Bot with a minimalistic foot structure I felt like its form wasn't communicating enough on an emotional level. It felt almost as if I could have put a computer instead of the sculpture. I wanted to make the bots more creature-like, more of beings.  The domain of cartoons and animation was the middle ground between a cold conceptual work and representational art, which I wasn’t interested in. The feet forms resemble Mickey Mouse feet. They are just humorous enough and just likely enough to evoke sympathy in the viewer, while still remaining in a fictional domain. I imagine that one day I’ll be able to make the Wobbly Bots bounce around the room on their feet. I’d really like to see that.

A: Your Chatting Room installation seems to connect with your Human Mediated Machine Conversation performance. Did the performance happen organically while you were in the process of creating the installation?

V: Only after completing the installation I have realized that this project began four or five years ago when I was thinking about interaction between semi-organic creatures. At the time I made small sculptures of these organic-shaped worm-creatures that had box megaphones as their heads. I wanted them to use sound to conduct a nonverbal communication. At that point it wasn’t clear to me where exactly I’m going with this idea, so I sat it aside and after a while forgot about it. Much later I met Cleverbot (a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users over the internet) and was inspired by it. The idea of multi-directional communication between entities evolved and began to grow layers of meaning. I was thinking about our relationships with smart devices and other commodities, human-algorithm society and so on. I began to plan an installation where robots would talk to people and to each other. While I was working out the technological part of the installation, I noticed how interesting the act of mediating chatbot speech is, and the performance was born as a result of my experimentation.

" Human Mediated Machine Conversation " 2014-2015  Phase 1: Each performer has an instance of a Chatbot running on their computer. They mediate a conversation between the two Chatbots by saying the chat lines out loud and typing them into the chat line. The only human input to the content of the conversation is the initial “Hi” and the occasional misspelling/mishearing mistakes.

"Human Mediated Machine Conversation" 2014-2015

Phase 1: Each performer has an instance of a Chatbot running on their computer. They mediate a conversation between the two Chatbots by saying the chat lines out loud and typing them into the chat line. The only human input to the content of the conversation is the initial “Hi” and the occasional misspelling/mishearing mistakes.

Phase 2 and 3: During phase 2, gallery visitors take the performers' places and continue mediating the Chatbot conversation. In phase 3, the Chatbots spontaneously stop accepting input from the keyboard while still speaking to one another. The participant's role is eliminated and the continuing conversation is shown on the computer screens and projected onto the walls. 

Phase 2 and 3: During phase 2, gallery visitors take the performers' places and continue mediating the Chatbot conversation. In phase 3, the Chatbots spontaneously stop accepting input from the keyboard while still speaking to one another. The participant's role is eliminated and the continuing conversation is shown on the computer screens and projected onto the walls. 

A: Do you feel like that happens a lot in your work?

V: Yes. I am constantly closing circles revisiting my past interests and ideas. I often lay ideas aside for years and then find them again through new forms, areas of expertise and gained contexts. Closing a circle this way always adds a different level of complexity and is very satisfying.

A: Did you study art in college or are you self-taught?

V: I had a long and somewhat awkward path to the point that I am at now. When I finished high school my parents insisted that I do something useful with my life. I didn’t have any strong opinion in either direction and pretty randomly enrolled in school for computer science. I ended up not liking it much: it felt too far-removed from the physical world, and so I continued with my master’s in biotechnology hoping to combine programming with biology. For my master’s thesis I was working on a simulation of genetics of a population evolving through generations. This was my first encounter with the artificial life concept. I enjoyed this kind of work, even started a PhD, but soon enough realized that this is still not the right thing for me. I quit, left Israel, travelled and worked abroad searching for my calling. It was while living in Australia when I started to make art on my own and at that point I knew that l have found it. Eventually, I went back to Israel, started art school, and after my third year there I started realizing that things that I knew about computers and biology were really influencing what I was doing on the conceptual level. My last undergraduate work: the “Ears Mouse” dealt with biology, genetics, and artificial life. I realized that not only did I want to make representational work dealing with these topics, I also wanted to actually make the artificially-alive things. I taught myself some basic electronics and started working with physical computing, so my background in computer science definitely helped. As to my background in biology, it often inspires me, but I’m not sure if it necessarily helps: I don’t use any of my knowledge in the field in practice. Still it allows me to think about my topics of interest more broadly.

"Ears Mouse" 2012-2013

"Ears Mouse" 2012-2013

A: So at some point there was definitely a learning curve?

V: It's been a lot of learning and unlearning. Gaining skills and information and then putting them aside; learning something else and then realizing that the previous thing is actually relevant;  going back and picking it up, doing new work with the old things that I have previously abandoned. I feel that I’m constantly moving on a kind of spiral that becomes more and more interesting and context-bound.

A: Did you start to work in 3-dimensional form in Australia or is that where you started to paint? 

V: I painted a lot as a child but around the time of high school I put painting aside under my parents’ pressure. Later, when I was in Australia I had a lot of vague ideas for art pieces. These were probably ideas of installations but I didn't even know what an installation was at that time. So I started making sculptures and learning casting and molding from the internet.  I made large, multiple part molds and poured resin in my living room (which wasn't a very smart thing to do). It was a process of self-teaching sculptural techniques and gathering materials. Some of the pieces I made worked, some failed, and then more failed but eventually I got pretty good at clay and plaster, molding, casting, working with resins, silicone, and so on. After about half a year of experimentations, I realized that I can figure most of it out technically, but I was missing the conceptual thinking which was harder to learn on my own. I went back to Israel and started art school for my undergrad again.

" In the Shower with a Missile " 2012-2013

"In the Shower with a Missile" 2012-2013

A: How and when did you decide that you wanted to create installations? 

V: I did some installation in my undergrad, not heavy duty but some things with wood, plaster and chicken wire. I’m always tempted to work large scale and fill whatever space I have. Also, my work is often narrative-based and through it I create my own fantastic worlds. Building immersive environments that become parts of such world, feels as a natural outcome.

A: Do you feel like you can express yourself and ideas more clearly through three dimensional form than two dimensional?

V: Sometimes, but I’m not willing to set boundaries for my creative process. I love painting too and although I haven't painted much in the last couple years I’m finally ready to get back to it. Meanwhile I do a lot of drawing. Drawing is very intimate to me and as a medium it satisfies the personal aspects of my practice. The combination of drawing the private and the emotional and dealing with more general ideas through sculpture and installation feels balanced to me.

A: I am curious about the “Singing Lump” piece, is it part of an installation? 

V: Yes, it is part of an installation called “Soon After”. I made this amorphous shape when I was working on a body of work that dealt with a fantastic future where people aren't present anymore and the objects and creatures that they created gained an independent existence and agency. Particularly I was thinking about bio-engineered creatures and their fate. What would happen to them after humans are no longer there to define them? Maybe they would go through an entropic process devolving into inertious amorphous lumps of living matter.  I thought: what would this lump be doing all day? In a world that no longer inhabited by humans or animals, knowledge and abilities picked up at the cultural junkyard left behind by our civilization. It could have heard a single song played by some machine, picked it up and now just lying there and singing this song over and over again.

                           Singing Lump  part of the " Soon After"  installation 

                          Singing Lump part of the "Soon After" installation 

A: There was another lump in the “Soon After” installation that was on the floor, are these lumps similar?

Installation shots from " Soon After "

Installation shots from "Soon After"

V: Yes, I made a few of these, and they were all made the same way. Initially I had some different ideas as to how to install them but that changed so the one underneath the knives isn't singing it's just lying there.

A: Was the “Soon After” installation sketched out or planned?

V: No, this installation was pretty much improvised. I had multiple sculptures that all dealt with the post-human future idea: ceramic lumps, kinetic wall pieces, dancing knives, and a homage to Alba the GFP bunny (a genetically modified glow in the dark rabbit) inside a black box. At some point I got an opportunity to compete for showing in a certain installation space and I won the competition. I had some parts, the space, and one week to install. I went into the space and again making it into my own environment and the installation started to form. I was working with the space and in the space and seeing how different elements interacted with each other and with the space. It was a lot of fun because it was much more free and fast than a pre-planned process

      "Homage to Alba"  glow in the dark rabbit as part of the  "Soon After"  installation

      "Homage to Alba" glow in the dark rabbit as part of the "Soon After" installation

A: So if your installations are part sculpture, do they stay together as one unit or do you ever break them apart and exhibit pieces separately?

V: Lately I have been thinking about how to make my practice more sustainable. I make design choices that make my installations more modular. The installations are made in pieces, they can be put together in pieces, the pieces are not necessarily dependent and can be exhibited as separate sculptures. The added value is that they can be reconstructed into different installations, so the work doesn’t need to be finalized at any time.

A: Could you talk a bit about the “A Painting Humming Itself” installation?

"A Painting Humming Itself" Installation 

"A Painting Humming Itself" Installation 

V: This piece was preconceived but went through multiple changes. For a long while I wanted to make an interactive painting that would look back at the viewer and interact. Also I was interested in reversing the roles of painting and space by creating a trompe-l'oeil: a three-dimensional illusion of a flat surface. While still exploring interactive environments I experimented with wall-embedded framed tunnels. In this work I knew I wanted the viewers to become essential to the piece. The rest followed intuitively. The final version of this installation was a single wall in a black room that you could approach from both sides. In a sense it was a two dimensional work with a front and a back. Some of the ‘paintings’ in the installation were active, others were not. There was a playful and somewhat deceiving element which confused the viewer: it wasn’t quite clear what to expect from each tunnel, which are interactive and which are not. When the installation was finished the amount of viewer participation was enormous and I really enjoyed it and learned a lot from observing people interact with my work.

A: Is the whispering dialogue something specific like a message that you wanted to get through to the viewer or a story that you read that you wanted to bring into the work?

V: The whispering itself was an intervention into an appropriated text.The new text revolves around several keywords stripped from their initial context, you cannot hear it completely but you can catch some of the words. Some cultural references do come through and evoke a different association in each viewer. The whispering intrigued and lures you to come closer, which ignites a chain of reactive actions. The text is an additional layer of meaning, providing a cultural-historical context.

A: Was the idea of having people participate in your work always your intention or did that come as you were doing more installations?

Gallery Visitors interacting with " A Painting Humming Itself "

Gallery Visitors interacting with "A Painting Humming Itself"

V: It’s more of a recent thing. It started to happen around the time when I was teaching myself interactive and kinetic sculpture. When I made my first interactive work and saw people's reactions I realized how important this is for me. I want to make art that is able to develop an active dialogue with the viewer, not only reactive but also interactive. I want the communication between the work and the viewer to change something in both.

A: Do you feel that you approach your work differently now, focusing more on how you can allow the interactions from viewers?

V: I am not exclusively interested in interactive objects but working with them made me more conscious about the viewer's experience. This consciousness caused me to engage in interaction design as a part of my work. Today if I am doing something that isn't functionally interactive I still see the objects that I am making as evocative objects. I adopted and appropriated the term “Evocative Objects” from Sherry Turkle - a very interesting author and researcher in the area of human-technology relations. Evocative object is her definition is an object that affects us by evoking a change in our mind:  bringing up a memory,a feeling, developing relationship with us.

A: So interesting, thank you so much for your time Vita, it has been a great experience learning more about you and your work!

You can read more about Vita's work on her website




Art Can Save Lives

Billy Hahn is a New Jersey based artist whose work ranges from paintings, to three dimensional stuffed creatures, masks, collages and insanely cool installations. He is living proof that art has the power to heal even in the darkest of times. He spent his early 20's in Brooklyn doing some crazy things and has one hell of a story to tell that will inspire us all to stay true to ourselves and keep it real. 

Some of Billy's collages

Some of Billy's collages

A: What is the inspiration behind your work?

B: What inspires me most is having an idea and being able to execute it. Whenever I see something that really grabs my attention whether it be in nature, from other people, or just the revolving of life itself, knowing that I can make that idea a reality is what inspires me. The overall meaning behind my work is my heart. Every emotion inside of me that people generally don't get to see is what my work is all about, the rawness of emotions that no one wants to convey, the things you can't really say out loud. Art is not separate from my life, I look and see everything as a whole. I create art for myself, it is the only thing that keeps me level. 

My art is based off of my deep imagination, my dreams and desires. It's my world from A to Z. It all started in college when I started making masks out of paper mache. The first mask that I ever created was a character called Bush Monster for an exhibition that I was in around that time. The whole concept of creating characters came from that time. I started creating more masks, each one a different character with a different name. After college I moved to Bushwick and started to make masks and put costumes together for the band that I was in. I would customize the whole setup. I would also wear the masks and sell my art on the street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  

You can see Billy's new masks in next months spread of  Buffet Magazine

You can see Billy's new masks in next months spread of Buffet Magazine

It evolved into making settings to evoke feeling and that's exactly what I created for the show entitled "Into My Brain We Go". It allowed people to connect with my imaginative level. The feeling of the fog, the cave, the sound, and the smell allowed people to connect with an alternate reality. 

Installation shots 

Installation shots 

A: What life experiences have you gone through that are reflected in your art?

B: I've loved, I've hated, I forgave, I've lived in a city and I've lived in the South. I have camped out in Miami Beach, I've been to rooftop orgy's, I've seen my peers pass away, and have almost lost my own life. I've been assaulted more than once, I've seen people held up at gun point, and I've skinny dipped in the East River. I've watched my apartment burn in flames, I've been pampered, and I've been broke. I have struggled, I have helped, I've done good, I've done bad. I'm the yin and yang, the black and white, the DIRTY DUNDEE and the Laughing Lemon Legs.

A: So would you say that art has helped you through difficult times? 

B: Of course, art is the only thing that I can turn to, to let my emotions out instead of keeping them bottled up inside. Art is basically what is keeping me alive right now as we speak. If I did not have art in my life I would be dead, which is an intense statement and sad to say but art is really that powerful. 

"Art has saved my life" 

I say this because I was addicted to drugs and art has been the only thing that has helped me get through the darkness. Art is the only thing that I feel such real passion for and that gives me something back in return. When I am making art nothing else in the world matters...it is the only thing that truly makes me happy. Being addicted to drugs was swallowing my life. If I didn't have art to turn to it would have swallowed me, the drugs would have killed me. 

Art is definitely the only thing keeping me sober, if I didn't have art I would be lost. When I feel like I am going to use, I ask myself, would you rather be high or making art? Being high is short lived and art has a lasting effect. It helps me stay focused and empowers me to stay sober and serve as a constant reminder that I don't need drugs. The drugs were what was holding me back. It took me a while to realize that. The whole time I was using drugs I was aware that I was ruining my life, but that's the worst part about addiction, you just don't care about anything. 

Some of Billy's watercolor and ink drawings

Some of Billy's watercolor and ink drawings

A: What does it feel like to be addicted?

B: It feels completely helpless. Truly sickening and awful. Being truly addicted to drugs is possibly the worst thing you can feel. It's like being in your own jail and not being able to live while it is slowly killing you. You are stuck in this tunnel vision and can't think about or see anything else and you don't even like the way you are living...it is slowly killing you and you don't even give a shit. 

A: Did you find that the art you were creating while you were using was different than the art you create when you're sober?

B: I have tried to look at my art that way but my art never changes. It was a little darker when I was using, but I always make art that has a dark side. You look at my work and you see the darkness, it's creepy but colorful and exciting at the same time. I had been on drugs for so long that I'm not even sure how to separate the two to make a comparison. I truly don't know if I can see a difference from the art I created when I was using versus when I am sober because now that I'm sober, I am still making the same things. My ideas are always there no matter if I am high or not. 

The thing is, the mindset when I'm on drugs doesn't seem different, it's the internal feelings that are different when I am using. It could depend on the type of drugs you are taking because some people who take hallucinogens have come up with different, crazy ideas they might not have if they were sober but the drugs that I was using were not like that. My ideas and inspiration have always come from within. I can trace that back to when I was a little kid. I was always being clever and creating. 

A: How did you get sober?

B: My parents have supported me and helped me get sober. I truly have the most magical loving family and was able to go to them and tell them that I really needed help and we devised a plan together. Part of that plan has been for me to use my hard earned money in a way that benefits me to have a brighter future versus pissing it away on drugs and putting things in my body that have no purpose. I want things out of life, and the longer I stay sober the stronger I get. As I started to get back to my true self again, back to that mindset of focus and awareness, I started to ask myself, "do I really want that kind of life for myself?" 

I know what I want and I am going for it. The past few months that I have been sober, I've had this fire in me and it would crush my soul if I went back to what I was doing before. 

A: What is the message that you want to send out to the world through your art?

B: That life is worth living. Be happy, laugh more, and judge less. Express yourself truly from within and find what you love to do because you feel it so much it makes you shiver. Don't waste your energy on negativity, take a deep breath, daydream, eat an extra cookie, and smile at a stranger. Be strong and work hard, always stay focused, and find your candy store. 

Billy working in his studio at  Art Space NJ

Billy working in his studio at Art Space NJ

You can learn more about Billy and his work at www.billyhahn.com