Eye To Eyebeam: A Conversation With Nova Jiang

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(Photo credit: Michelle Calabro)

Eye to Eyebeam is a new series on Eyebeam's artists in residence and fellows. The series will include interviews, photos, and other information and is authored by Eyebeam intern Katherine DiPierro.

For Eyebeam Fellow Nova Jiang, participatory creativity is everything. From participant-manipulated puppets to a comic book that generates itself, her intricate mechanical projects engage viewers in unexpected ways and lead to shared social events. More importantly, Nova’s work playfully invites viewers to become collaborators in the pieces by adding their own creative thoughts or actions. Intrepid Eyebeam intern Katherine DiPierro sat down with Nova to chat about her work.

Katherine DiPierro: How did you become an Eyebeam Fellow, and what have you produced as part of your fellowship? What else are you planning to accomplish?

Nova Jiang: I've always been aware of Eyebeam's work, so I applied for the fellowship program. It's the only place with resources and support which allows me to complete projects that require plenty of space for fabrication. During my fellowship, I taught the 2011 Girl's Eye View workshop with [Eyebeam Fellow] Kaho Abe and learned a lot about teaching open-source technology to high school girls. I successfully remade my pantograph project, the Figurative Drawing Device, for Moleskine. I’ve almost finished my comic book project, Ideogenic Machine, which will be installed for September 27.

For another one of my projects, the heavily-educational Creatomatic, participants conceived and prototyped new inventions over the course of just a few hours using software that randomly juxtaposes two common-place objects. I’m working on a Creatomatic exhibition for November, where I’ll invite interesting artists and designers to use the methodology and come up with new objects. I also plan to use the methodology to come up with a series of prototypes for intervention with public space!

KD: Although several of your projects utilize forms of technology both digital (the Ideogenic Machine, which uses computer algorithms and a Kinect to generate comics) and analog (the Figurative Drawing Device, based around a pantograph), the crux of your pieces seems to be personal interaction. What new forms of interaction do you see as inherently unique to this decade?

NJ: I’d say I’m interested in creating ways to help people overcome barriers they have towards being creative. For example, the Creatomatic is about making a certain method of thinking accessible to people. The pantograph [Figurative Drawing Device] helps people make figurative drawings without any skills. It's also about treating the audience as individuals with individual creative responses to the challenges presented by my artwork. There is definitely a trend towards audience participation in all aspects of culture, not only in games but also in advertising and TV. Hal Forster writes somewhere that participatory art isn't necessarily a reflection of democracy, but I think participatory art that encourages individual creativity is definitely an interesting step towards it.

KD: Ideogenic Machine generates surreal comics filled with organic forms that relate to each other in unexpected ways. What inspired you to create a randomized comic?

NJ: Like the Creatomatic, I'm interested in chance-inspired creativity, not to mention the ways human beings can read meaning into mechanical acts performed by the computer. There’s a long tradition of chance generated narratives such as the cut-up technique or Dada poetry. It also makes participants the chance to be protagonists of their own comic book. It also gives them plenty of room to be creative: they still have to fill out the empty speech bubbles the comic generates with dialog.

KD: By the time this interview is published, you will have participated in the 2011 New York Maker Faire. What projects did you present? Have you presented at past Maker Faires?

NJ: It’s my first Maker Faire, and I’ll have presented both the Creatomatic and Ideogenic Machine.

Thank you, Nova! For more original work, be sure to visit Nova Jiang's Eyebeam page and personal website.