My process, both in theory and practice, is ultimately driven by one question: how does life tend to persist?  This question has been my overarching objective since my undergraduate studies in Environmental Science.  One thing that became obvious in that program is that these questions cannot be reasonably engaged one discipline at a time.  Like the Blind Men and the Elephant, we must see the world from diverse perspectives while simultaneously finding a common language, a higher-order perspective.  This timeless paradox – understanding the distinct phenomena in the universe, while simultaneously finding their inter-dependencies – is the centerpiece of my creative process, itself an evolving practice.
Science, design, technology and art have all been distinct, yet inter-dependent, passions of mine.  Their integration, in our industrial age, hasn’t always been facilitated.  In the past, I relied mostly on the pragmatics of design to find my way among these disciplines.  However, to meaningfully and empirically contribute to the question of life’s persistence, I must fully embrace the tension between my artistic and scientific investigations.  These two ancient disciplines have one fundamental thing in common: they willfully engage that timeless paradox intrinsic to vitality itself.  The synthesis of these distinct, yet inter-dependent, perspectives is my path forward.
I vividly remember asking my guidance counselor in high school how best to integrate art and science.  As discussed below, I moved back and forth through different aspects of these culturally “non-overlapping magisteria”.   My bodies of work have explored the overlaps among these distinct perspectives, discovering entrancing dead ends and novel opportunities in the mix.  Moving forward, I will find partnerships to cultivate my ultimate synthesis of these distinct methodologies, a body of work I’m currently calling “sentient observatories”.
Areas of research, experience and accomplishments - a foundation for success:
Growing up my father had a fine furniture art practice, but I always loved science and had big questions: how do machines work?  How does the mind work?  And, more generally, how do complex living systems work?  So, at UC Santa Barbara I did a little art, but graduated with Environmental Sciences.  In my fifth year, I completed the core upper division curriculum for Physical Chemistry, which I truly enjoyed.  But the big questions persisted, and I needed to set that science in a larger more meaningful context.  So, I went on to a Masters in Architecture at CU Denver to resolve my passion for both art and science set in the world.
Design theory taught me a great deal about engaging paradox towards practical ends via process.  But, once I won design awards for Denver Police Station #1 as Head Designer, my design ego was satiated (ARCH).  9/11 happened and the big questions resurfaced unanswered: in the face of such acrimony and chaos, how can living systems persist?
In 2003, my response was to enter the World Trade Center Memorial design competition.  I proposed an interactive art sculpture whose intent was to bring inanimate architecture “alive”, so that the built environment literally perceives the patterns of people around it.  Its subsequent behavior is a synthesis intended to bring people together and learn more about themselves and each other in the world.  But, to create a sentient artifact that creatively encourages inter-relations among people is to engage millennia old questions, questions that a pragmatic design practice struggled to support on its own.  Thus, my broader art/science practice was born.
Not surprisingly, this ambitious objective occupied most of a decade.  At first, in 2004, I was fascinated by artificial neural nets; however, once I read many neuroscience papers and investigated some of the critiques of “brain as computer” by UC Berkeley’s John Searle and Hubert Dreyfus and MIT’s Rodney Brooks, I realized that my goal of sentience probably wasn’t down any purely digital road.  So, I went to many lectures at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley, and was part of a neuroscience study in Professor Levi’s perception lab.  Simultaneously, for implementation purposes, I completed the analog and digital circuit design tracks at San Francisco City College along with JAVA programming.
By 2012, I had a manuscript, which – based on first principles – describes in detail both a schematic design to build and theory to test a new artistic medium able to implement my original World Trade Center art installation.  By synthesizing the thermodynamics of physical chemistry, dynamic system theory from environmental science, information theory and an intuition for animal sentience from design, phenomenology and neuroscience, this manuscript then became the basis for papers and experiments to implement and test this new medium (TECH).
Then, as stories go, reality intervened.  The 2008 recession had hit my design practice hard, which gave me an excuse to do all the above, but left me fiscally drained by 2012.  This constraint, however, led to some very positive outcomes.  First, my own project led me to Terrance Deacon, neurobiological anthropologist at UC Berkeley.  His work on how – again, from first principles – life emerged from non-life dovetailed very nicely with my own research (SCIENCE).  We continue to work together.  And, secondly, I landed a job at the Exploratorium where I teamed up with Shawn Lani, and others, to co-found the Studio for Public Spaces, which via my creative process integrates art, technology and culture into public installations, my most recent body of work (ART).
Future academic and professional goals:
Now, I find myself at an exciting cross-road.  I have a novel technical medium specifically created to empirically and rigorously explore questions of sentience and human vitality; I’m working with a biological anthropologist on a similarly grounded hypothesis for how living systems emerge; and, I co-founded a pedagogically grounded studio at the Exploratorium, which places and evaluates interactive pro-social installations in the world.  My next step is to more intimately integrate these inter-related, yet distinct, threads into one coherent body of work.
With this body of work, I intend to bring very diverse disciplines together with the aim of not only exploring a few focused questions, but expanding the very terrain of what questions are possible.  My design practice will be subsumed into a scientific art practice.  I will build sentient observatories to help us discover more sustainable modes of being in our only known biosphere.
To build this body of work, I’m excited to be both student and nascent teacher in facing the timeless paradox by engaging the proverbial elephant from many points of view.  I seek a community of diverse colleagues, a culture of rigor and the psychological space to productively explore this novel and promising terrain.
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